You’ve all seen the headlines by now: “Children of lesbian parents do well.” These headlines are based on a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Here’s a excellent critique of the study by Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage:
I actually read the study, which is my custom before commenting. I also read the letters to the editor on this study.
Here are 8 reasons why this study does not prove anything about the functioning of the children of lesbians.
- The sample is extremely small: 78 children of lesbian mothers and 93 children in the control group.
- The sample of lesbian mothers is unlikely to be representative of the general population of lesbians. This is a sample of people who volunteered for the study, not a random sample. The most motivated and high-functioning people are the most likely to volunteer for a politically charged study.
- The “results” are intrinsically unreliable. The results are nothing but the mothers’ reports of their childrens’ behavior and functioning. There is no cross-checking with objective outcomes, such as actual school achievement or teacher’s reports of behavior problems.
- The results for the lesbian moms show no difference in any indicator between boys and girls. This is highly unusual, and supports the possibility that the lesbian mothers are under-reporting difficulties.
- The children of lesbian moms do just as well, whether or not the couple had separated. This too, is highly unusual. Most studies show that children are harmed by disruptions in the parental relationship.
- This study makes no attempt to control for possibly confounding factors, such as socio-economic status. According to previous reports on this sample of lesbian mothers, 67% were college educated, and the median household income was $85,000. The children’s high functioning could be due to the fact that these lesbian mothers have more resources than the average family.
- The study does not report on how the control group of 93 children was selected. We have no way of knowing who these 93 children are, or how representative this control group really is.
- The most detailed part of the study was devoted to showing that any problems the children of lesbians experienced were due to homophobia. But the causal link between the mother’s reports of homophobia and the mother’s reports of aggressiveness could run the opposite way: kids might dislike those who are aggressive, and this dislike could be interpreted as homophobia.
My friend, Glenn Stanton, has written extensively on this topic. Here’s his analysis of what the vast majority of the research on same-sex parenting says:
There is a strong sociological consensus that married mothers and fathers are essential for optimal child well-being. There are strong, well-researched statements from mainstream sociologists which clearly identify which family forms best provide for healthy child-development. These statements are based on at least 30 years of social science evidence, and the researchers have done their homework. And, unlike the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) … they are free from the influence and partisanship of the same-sex “marriage” political debate. A sampling of this work follows:
James Q. Wilson, a world-known and widely-respected social scientist, recently authored a very important article on the importance of marriage. He says:
Almost everyone – a few retrograde scholars accepted – agrees that children in mother-only homes suffer harmful consequences: the best studies show that these youngsters are more likely than those in [mother/father] families to be suspended from school, have emotional problems, become delinquent, suffer from abuse and take drugs.
Here he is referring specifically to the unfortunate deficits found through studies of single-mother homes.
Dr. Wilson also explains repeatedly in his work the importance of the husband and father in the home and the clear, measurable child well-being benefits father’s provide.
This being the case, there is no indication that a mother’s lesbian lover can replace the essential and distinct role of a father. Wilson explains that some of the differences noted in perhaps half of the fatherless children, are plausibly accounted for by the mere economic difference of living without a father. But significantly, he notes , “The rest of the difference is explained by a mother living without a husband.” [James Q. Wilson, “Why We Don’t Marry,” City Journal, located here]
Wilson states elsewhere,
There is no society where women alone care for each other and their children; there is none where fathers are not obligated to support their children and the mothers to whom they were born. [James Q. Wilson, The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families, (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), p. 29.]
In addition to Wilson’s statements, two leading mainstream child-advocacy organizations recently sought to understand which family form best elevated child well-being outcomes. Their conclusions found that married mothers and fathers in low-conflict marriages accomplished this important task best.
Specifically the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), found:
Most researchers now agree that…studies support the notion that, on average, children do best when raised by their two married biological parents… Research indicates that, on average, children who grow up in families with both their biological parents in a low-conflict marriage are better off in a number of ways than children who grow up in single-, step or cohabiting-parent households. [Mary Parke, “Are Married Parents Really Better for Children?” Center for Law and Social Policy Policy Brief, May 2003, p. 1, 6.]
The other organization, Child Trends concludes:
An extensive body of research tells us that children do best when they grow up with both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage… Thus, it is not simply the presence of two parents, as some have assumed, but the presence of two biological parents that seem to support child development. (emphasis in the original) [Kristin Anderson Moore, et al., “Marriage From a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It?” Child Trends Research Brief, June 2002, p. 1-2.]
The work of a diverse team of family scholars provided a detailed list of advantages for the children with a married mother and father. Working collectively from the Universities of Texas, Virginia, Minnesota, Chicago, Maryland, Washington, UC Berkeley, and Rutgers University, they reported that children who live with their own married mother and father:
- live longer, healthier lives, both physically and mentally,
- do better in school,
- are more likely to graduate and attend college.
- less likely to live in poverty,
- be in trouble with the law,
- drink or do drugs,
- be violent or sexually active, or
- be victims of sexual or physical violence.
In addition, these children are also more likely to have successful marriage when they are older. [W. Bradford Wilcox, et al., Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition: Twenty Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences, (New York: Institute for American Values, 2005).]
Finally, Sara McLanahan of Princeton University, one of the world’s leading scholars on how family form impacts child well-being, explains from her extensive investigations:
If we were asked to design a system for making sure that children’s basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the two-parent family ideal. Such a design, in theory, would not only ensure that children had access to the time and money of two adults, it would provide a system of checks and balances that promote quality parenting. The fact that both adults have a biological connection to the child would increase the likelihood that the parents would identify with the child and be willing to sacrifice for that child and it would reduce the likelihood that either parent would abuse the child. [W. Bradford Wilcox, et al., Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition: Twenty Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences, (New York: Institute for American Values, 2005)]
When we look at the larger body of literature on family formation and child well-being, we find there are great and consequential differences between the various kinds of heterosexual homes.
This is a truth the AAP (and the other medical and professional organizations that followed their lead) should have considered – and communicated — in using their status to support a new and experimental family form called same-sex parenting.
Instead, they have used their enviable status to irresponsibly support a new and controversial family form with very weak data and ultimately a slippery conclusion.