Good News For Gay Parents

A major Australian study has found that the children of same-sex couples are better off than most:

Researchers from the University of Melbourne surveyed 315 same-sex parents with a total of 500 children. About 80 percent of the children have female parents, while 18 percent have male parents. The children raised by same-sex partners scored an average of 6 percent higher than the general population on measures of general health and family cohesion. They were equivalent to those from the general population on measures of temperament and mood, behavior, mental health and self-esteem.

Researcher Simon Crouch posits that “the structure of same-sex parent families, particularly in relation to work and home duties, plays an important part in how well families get along”:

Same-sex parents, for instance, are more likely to share child care and work responsibilities more equitably than heterosexual-parent families. It is liberating for parents to take on roles that suit their skills rather than defaulting to gender stereotypes, where mum is the primary care giver and dad the primary breadwinner. Our research suggests that abandoning such gender stereotypes might be beneficial to child health.

But stigmatization remains a concern:

According to the study, about two-thirds of children with same-sex parents experienced some form of stigma because of their parents’ sexual orientation. Despite these kids’ higher marks in physical health and social well-being, the stigma associated with their family structure was linked to lower scores on a number of scales. Crouch said stigmas ranged from subtle issues such as sending letters home from school addressed to a “Mr.” and “Mrs.” to more harmful problems such as bullying at school. The greater the stigma a same-sex family faces, the greater the impact on a child’s social and emotional well-being, Crouch said.

Mark Joseph Stern argues that stigma isn’t a gay-parenting problem; it’s an anti-gay-parenting problem:

A study last year by researchers at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Pretoria in South Africa took a deeper dive into the effect of stigma on gay families, finding that:

The children were not upset that their parents are gay. In fact, most of them embraced it. The negativity that children with gay parents experience is rarely the result of having gay parents. Instead, it’s the cultural stigma that causes all the problems. Any concerns they had were the result of how they would be treated in the public sphere. Research constantly shows that children with gay parents are normal, healthy, well-adjusted people. It’s the social scrutiny and stigmatization that children have to negotiate and contend with.

As that quote suggests, the study only confirmed what previous research had borne out: Gay parents don’t disadvantage their children – but conservatives’ smear campaigns against gay parents do.

German Lopez notes some caveats in the study:

The findings are based on reports from the parents who agreed to the survey, which could skew the results. The survey also focused on Australian same-sex parents, so there may be social and cultural factors at play that wouldn’t apply perfectly to America’s gay and lesbian parents. And the study doesn’t compare same-sex parents directly with opposite-sex parents; it instead compares same-sex parents and their children to the general population.

Update from a reader:

German Lopez’s caveat goes further than you may suspect. While it’s true beyond doubt that the study shows that same-sex parenting doesn’t hurt, and that’s important to get on the record, the data can’t say anything useful about whether or not it’s better. For that, you’d need to compare same-sex adoptive parents to opposite-sex adoptive parents, not same-sex parents to the general population.

It comes down to basic experiment design. You want to remove as many confounding factors as possible. Adoptive parents spend a lot of time and money on the process, have gone through a vetting process, and manifestly WANT to be parents. The general population contains a lot of willing parents, to be sure – but it also contains a lot of accidental parents, people with “buyers’ remorse”, and few of them went through any vetting process more discriminating than the mother’s choice of partner.

An interesting result, but more study is needed.