Are Children Worse Off When Raised in Same-Sex Homes? #9 Post of 2012

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Traditional marriage advocates have often argued that children are better off when they are raised by their married biological mother and biological father.  The data is overwhelmingly in favor of married parents as opposed to single parents.

Those who support gay marriage almost always counter this data by saying that single parent homes may be worse for children, but homes where there are two loving gay parents are just as good for kids as homes where  a traditional married couple raises children.  They point to studies that purport to show no difference between the two different kinds of households.

Traditional marriage proponents have always countered by saying that the studies referred to by the gay marriage side are methodologically flawed, mostly because the sample sizes are too small and the gay couples taking part in the research almost always volunteer to be part of that research.

Where do we go from here?  Who is right?  Are same-sex households equivalent to opposite-sex households when it comes to outcomes for children?  New answers seem to be emerging that do not look good for same sex couples.

On June 10, the Washington Times reported on two new studies that were released which undermine the gay marriage argument that children are no worse off when raised by same sex couples.  Here are some excerpts from the article:

Two studies released Sunday may act like brakes on popular social-science assertions that gay parents are the same as — or maybe better than — married mother-father parents.

“The empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go,” University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus said in his study in Social Science Research.

Using a “gold standard” data set of nearly 3,000 randomly selected American young adults, Mr. Regnerus looked at their lives on 40 measures of social, emotional and relationship outcomes.

He found that, when compared with adults raised in married, mother-father families, adults raised by lesbian mothers had negative outcomes in 24 of 40 categories, while adults raised by gay fathers had negative outcomes in 19 categories.

Findings like these contradict claims that there are no differences between gay parenting and heterosexual, married parents, said Mr. Regnerus, who helped develop the New Family Structures Study at the University of Texas.

Instead, “[C]hildren appear most apt to succeed well as adults when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day,” he wrote.

Mr. Regnerus’ study of 2,988 people ages 18 to 39 — including 175 adults raised by lesbian mothers and 73 adults raised by gay fathers — marks the first research from the new data set, which initially included some 15,000 people.

Here are a sample of some of the 24 negative outcomes for children raised in a home where their mother had lesbian relationships:

  • Family received welfare growing up: 17% of children with married parents, 69% of children with lesbian mothers
  • Recently or currently in therapy: 8% of children with married parents, 19% of children with lesbian mothers
  • Had an affair while married or cohabiting: 13% of children with married parents, 40% of children with lesbian mothers
  • Was ever forced to have sex unwillfully: 8% of children with married parents, 31% of children with lesbian mothers

The article goes on to report on second study released:

The second study, also in Social Science Research, takes a critical look at the basis of an oft-cited American Psychological Association report on gay parenting.

The APA brief says, “Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.”

After looking at the 59 studies that undergird this assertion, however, “The jury is still out,” said Loren Marks, an associate professor at the School of Human Ecology at Louisiana State University. “The lack of high-quality data leaves the most significant questions [about gay parenting] unaddressed and unanswered.”

Problems with the APA-cited studies were their small size; dependence on wealthy, white, well-educated lesbian mothers; and failure to examine common outcomes for children, such as their education, employment and risks for poverty, criminality, early childbearing, substance abuse and suicide. Instead, the APA studies often looked at children’s gender-role behaviors, emotional functioning and sexual identities.

The results of these studies, especially that of Regnerus, are extremely important.  Finally we have larger sample sizes, coupled with a random data set.  The results are certainly very troubling for same-sex marriage advocates.  Their claims that same-sex households are equivalent to heterosexual households cannot be sustained without ignoring these new major studies.  Certainly more research is needed, but at least we are starting to see data collected with proper methodology.

Note: If you would like to see a Q and A with Mark Regnerus, click on this link.

  • tildeb

    If we want to answer the question you posed: Are children worse off when raised in same sex homes? then the studies you quote are worthless. For a more in depth look at why they are worthless, go here.

    But suffice to say, Regnerus studied adult children of heterosexual – perhaps bi-sexual – parents, one of whom allegedly had had a same-sex affair. To present this data as negative towards gay married couples with children is inaccurate and to promote its findings as anything other than anti-gay religious belief is no surprise to anyone familiar with reality: troubled marriages have an impact on children.

    But let us not forget that the study, funded to the tune of nearly three quarters of a million dollars, was commissioned by the highly religious National Organization for Marriage by Robert George, a man with specific, ill-intentioned anti-gay political
    goals, who has also controlled how the study was carried out
    and promoted to the public.

    Clearly, this is not science. It is not scholarship. This is religious belief dressed up as ‘social’ science. We are being sold a bill of goods here. Enter Marks whom we know from his testimony during the Prop 8 legal challenge:

    We know from Mark’s deposition (transcript: that under questioning, he admitted that he had cherry-picked information convenient to his anti-gay arguments out of the studies he relied on, that he neither read those studies in their entirety, nor knew anything whatsoever about same-sex parents, and that his presumptions were based on his theologically-fueled prejudice against gay people.

    And this is the person telling us to question the quality of the consensus on scientific data about same sex parents?

  • Most of your response is nothing but attacks on the motives of the researchers, rather than dealing with the results of their research. Please go read the blog comments guidelines and consider yourself warned.

  • tildeb

    No, they’re not. My response is to explain why their research is bogus, namely, that is is based on “adult children of heterosexual – perhaps bi-sexual – parents, one of whom allegedly had had a same-sex affair” but presented dishonestly as data on the negative effects caused by same sex parenting. To understand why this intentional duplicity is important, one must then look at the motivation of those involved to doing so, which is based in this case on specific funding targeted to achieve a specific result. This is not good science and creates unreliable results.

    You are very quick to suggest that attacks on motives are against your commenting policy, but criticism of the motives for presenting research findings dishonestly are not some trivial or mean-spirited side issue. They are central concerns that need to be understood in order to then appreciate why the findings have been artificially ‘created’ to misrepresent a scientific answer to a very reasonable and important question.

  • Bill

    you indicating the Regnerus study was done of children raised in a gay or
    lesbian household? Or of children whose
    parents came out as gay or lesbian at one point in their life? Isn’t there a significant difference? And wouldn’t that data impact the results?

  • Tiber Septim

    Have you ever heard correlation does not imply causation? You have shown absolutely no evidence to suggest that having homosexual or lesbian parents CAUSES anyone to be worse off. Also these studies would have to be verified as reliable in order for them to be considered data. Were the studies double blind? Were they conducted under acceptable conditions? Let’s see you provide some real evidence before we take anything you say seriously.

  • Tiber Septim

    You’re an idiot.

  • Tiber Septim

    Talking to Bill, not tildeb.

  • Read the comment guidelines.

  • I don’t know the answer to that. My guess is that it is mostly the latter, and not the former. There are just very few lifelong-committed gay couples that have raised children to adulthood. The data set on that particular group of people, I would imagine, is far too small to draw any conclusions.

    What is troubling for gay marriage advocates is that parents who call themselves gay have raised children who have much more negative outcomes than heterosexual married parents. I believe that a lot more research needs to be done, and I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about causation, as Regnerus himself reminds everyone. Correlation does not mean causation. But the facts of this study are still troubling for those who argue that gay parenting outcomes are not any different than straight parenting outcomes.

  • Thanks
    for your response, Bill Pratt. According
    to articles on the data set, it WAS from the latter group—people who came out
    as gay or lesbian. Not children raised
    in gay/lesbian households.

    But the facts of this study are still
    troubling for those who argue that gay parenting outcomes are not any different
    than straight parenting outcomes.

    am not sure why they would be if…

    The data set on that particular group of
    people, [lifelong-committed gay couples that have raised children to adulthood]
    I would imagine, is far too small to draw any conclusions.

    can one say, “we can’t draw any conclusions, BUT… our conclusion is that this
    is troubling”?

  • P.S. I love how Disqus modifies my comments to make them seem so much more prose-like.

  • It seems this research shows that parents who are gay, and who raise children, do a poorer job of it. The question now is whether two loving, monogamous, and committed gay parents will do as good a job as the traditional heterosexual married couple. Since there are so few of these committed gay couples, we have a real problem drawing any statistically significant conclusions yet. One of the reasons there are so few of these couples is because other research has demonstrated that gay couples are much less likely to stay together for a long period of time than straight couples. This is especially true of gay men.

    My conclusion from Regnerus’s research is that it doesn’t look promising for those who think that married, monogamous, gay married couples are going to do as well as heterosexual married couples raising children. This research does not help that cause. Gay marriage advocates are back to “hoping” that the data for gay, married couples will some day prove out positive.

  • They just upgraded me to Disqus 2012, so I’m not sure what is going on with their new features.

  • Andrew Ryan

    People in the study are classed as ‘gay parents’ if they have had any gay relationship at all, regardless of how short it was or how long it was after the kids may have grown up. This is not much use as a data study. And although the ‘gay group’ includes many single parent families, the study doesn’t control for this by comparing it to single parent families with straight moms or dads. Instead the control group is entirely made up of two-parent families. Bill, does this not strike you as a dishonest way of setting up a study?

  • You start off saying that traditional marriage advocates say it’s best when kids are raised by two biological parents – but the ‘gay group’ includes just that set-up. Furthermore, by definition any such couple must either have split up or one had an affair, for one to now be identified as gay. To correctly control for this you need to be comparing them to couples where one has had a straight affair. Otherwise it could just be the affair/divorce part that damaged the kids, and the gay part may well be irrelevant.

    Lastly, if even forming a straight relationship and settling down to have kids is negative according to this survey (where the gay group includes people who raised their own biological children with the straight other parent), does that mean the traditionalists are no longer even going to encourage gays to ‘go straight’? If you believe they’ll still make bad parents with a straight opposite sex partner, I mean.

  • tildeb

    Let’s revisit the evidence for Judge Walker’s decision to rule Prop 8 as unconstitutional:

    “The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s
    adjustment. The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful, and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology. a.Tr 1025:4-23 (Lamb: Studies have demonstrated “very conclusively that children who are raised by gay and lesbian parents are just as likely to be well-adjusted as children raised by heterosexual parents.” These results are “completely consistent with our broader understanding of the factors that affect children’s adjustment.”);b.PX2565 American Psychological Association, Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality at 5 (2008): “[S]ocial science has shown that the concerns often raised about children of lesbian and gay parents —— concerns that are generally grounded in prejudice against and stereotypes about gay people —— are unfounded.”;c.PX2547 (Nathans on Nov 12, 2009 Dep Tr 49:05-49:19:Sociological and psychological peer-reviewed studies conclude that permitting gay and lesbian individuals to marry does not cause any problems for children); PX2546at 2:20-3:10 (video of same). 71.Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”

    Good science requires compelling evidence for any tentative conclusions. What Regnerus’ study starkly shows is a lack of compelling evidence from the study itself for the study’s conclusion. In fact, the two are clearly disassociated. It is demonstrably deplorable and egregious science.

  • Stop telling gay-bashing lies. Regnerus worked through Knowledge Networks, which doesn’t look for specific demographics for carrying out surveys. There were plenty of gay parents raising children up through the 1990s. For every famous couple like Merce Cunningham and John Cage, there were dozens and dozens of non-famous committed gay and/or lesbian couples; often they raised children. All of the worst criminals were raised in intact biological families. Al Capone was raised in an intact biological family. Squeaky Fromme, who tried to kill President Ford, and John Hinckley, Jr., who shot President Reagan, both grew up in intact biological families. By contrast, no gay person, or child raised by a gay person, has ever attempted to assassinate a United States president.

  • Boz

    Washington Times said: “He[Regnerus] found that, when compared with adults raised in married, mother-father families, adults raised by lesbian mothers had negative outcomes in 24 of 40 categories,[and positive outcomes in 16 of 40 categores] while adults raised by gay fathers had negative outcomes in 19 categories [and positive outcomes in 21 of 40 categores].”
    So, two gay male parents produce better children than two straight male/female parents? right?

  • “Other research has demonstrated that gay couples are much less likely to stay together for a long period of time than straight couples”

    Bill, can you clarify something for me: did this research use MARRIED straight couples in the control group, or just unmarried straight couples? If the former, then the data is tainted. Studies show that married couples stay together longer than unmarried couples – in fact these studies are often quoted by people such as yourself to bolster the institution of marriage. If we accept such studies’ findings that marriage aids successful relationships, then it would follow that any group prevented from marrying would be at a disadvantage. To properly control for this, one would exclude married straight couples from the control group.

    Otherwise, it would be like keeping one breed of dogs indoors (poodles) and another breed in the yard (Pugs), and then saying “My practice is backed up by the fact that the pugs are clearly much dirtier than the poodles”, not allowing for the fact that keeping them in the yard could be what makes them dirty in the first place!

  • ” “He[Regnerus] found that, when compared with adults raised in married, mother-father families, adults raised by lesbian mothers had negative outcomes in… ”

    Again, couldn’t this just be down to comparing being raised by two parents to being raised by one parent? A proper survey would compare being raised by a single straight mother to being raised by a single lesbian mother. This is simply bad science. In any other sphere the study would be tossed away for unscientific use of data.

  • tildeb

    My point exactly, which raises the question why publish unless there is another agenda at work here? And there is, although to point out this important component at work in this atrocious study is to somehow go against the comment policy.

  • No. It is not dishonest. Regnerus has been very straightforward about what his study shows and does not show. I suggest you go read the Q and A link included in the blog post. Here is an excerpt from that Q and A:

    Q: Some might say this study reveals evidence that gay and lesbian parents would benefit from access to the relative security of marriage. What are your thoughts on that?

    A: It’s possible. How gay marriages would function for children is an empirical question, but it’s only answerable in the future, after ample numbers of cases have accrued, after considerable time has expired, and when the respondents are old enough to speak and reflect about it, as the respondents in my study have.

  • More from Regnerus:

    In response to a common criticism about the fact that there are few respondents who reported growing up in stably-coupled lesbian families, I had this to say:

    “One of the key methodological criticisms circulating is that–basically–in a population-based sample, I haven’t really evaluated how the adult children of stably-intact coupled self-identified lesbians have fared. Right? Right. And I’m telling you that it cannot be feasibly accomplished. It is a methodological (practical) impossibility at present, for reasons I describe: they really didn’t exist in numbers that could be amply obtained *randomly*. It may well be a flaw–a limitation, I think–but it is unavoidable. We maxxed Knowledge Networks’ ability, and no firm is positioned to do better. It would have cost untold millions of dollars, and still may not generate the number of cases needed for statistical analyses. If randomness wasn’t the key priority, then we could’ve done it. And we’d have had a nonrandom sample that was no better than anything before it. So, while critics are taking potshots, they should remember that there’s a (low) ceiling to what’s possible here. My team of consultants elected to go with the screener questions (including the one about same-sex relationships) that we did, anticipating–accurately, too–that there would be no way of generating ample sample size if we narrowed the criteria (for who counts as a lesbian parent) to the sort that critics are calling for. We figured that, with the household roster/calendar offering the opportunity to identify who you lived with, we’d comfortably get enough cases wherein the respondent reported living with mom and her partner for many consecutive years. But few did.”

  • Boz

    This whole issue is a red herring.
    The children of poor parents have worse outcomes than average. The children of single parents have worse outcomes than average. The children of parents with a criminal history have worse outcomes than average. The children of indigenous parents have worse outcomes than average. The children of less educated parents have worse outcomes than average. The children of black parents have worse outcomes than average.
    But there exists no advocacy to restrict parenting or adoption rights to indigenous people. For some mysterious reason, advocacy only exists against homosexual parents.
    Homosexuals should have just as many rights as the rest of us to form dysfunctional families with bad outcomes.

  • His study gets us no closer to any understanding due to the tainted data. I’ve already pointed out on this thread how the data could have been compared more scientifically.

    “How gay marriages would function for children is an empirical question, but it’s only answerable in the future”

    Right, so it’s pointless speculating until a considerable time after gay marriage has been allowed, meaning that at the moment we have no data to oppose it.

    How would you have viewed a study from a few decades back that purported to demonstrate that mixed race marriages should not be allowed, on the basis of comparing children brought up in same race marriages to mixed race children brought up by single mothers or single fathers?

    NB: this isn’t comparing being gay to being black – it’s either comparing gender and race (both unchanging) or it’s comparing gender preference with race preference.

  • It is not a red herring for a couple reasons. First, gay couples just do not stay together as long as straight couples do. They tend to have more partners over their lifetime than straight couples. I have never heard any gay marriage proponents dispute this fact.

    Due to this fact, we have no choice but to look at the kind of data Regnerus looked at. It seems that gay relationships are simply less stable, and so collecting data on hundreds or even thousands of randomly sampled gay married couples who stay together for 20+ years is just impossible; they are few and far between. For that reason, Regnerus’s data is instructive to us.

  • Again, when you compare how long gay couples stay together for, are you including married straight in the control group? If so, you are contaminating the data, as married couples tend to stay together longer anyway. Include them, and you cannot be sure it’s not the marriage itself that is causing straights to have longer relationships. Again, bad science. Bill can you confirm whether or not the studies you reference were carried out this way?

  • Boz

    I think you missed my point.

  • Pingback: Are Children Worse Off When Raised in Same-Sex Homes? | Time For Discernment()

  • Regnerus’s activity is now the subject of a Scientific Misconduct Inquiry at the University of Texas, Austin. A group of more than 200 professors and therapists have written a letter critiquing its methods and publication. Among the concerns are how quickly it was published, the validity of its peer review, and the merits of its methodology and conclusions.

    I’ll post a link to the letter in a separate post.

  • The full text of the letter criticising the study can be found here, together with the details of all the authors:

  • I am curious if the way society treated the children of homosexual parents had any significant bearing on higher instances of negative outcomes in more categories as there may be more bullying (for lack of a better term) these children suffer through. Now, I should disclose that I am a supporter of gay marriage and gays adopting and raising children and I am sure my views guide the conclusions (or rather, lack thereof) that these studies provided. All except the “received welfare growing up” data can also be attributed to abuse suffered at the hands of peers (though the need for money by those households could reflect a discrimination by employers or interviewers).

    I have known children of gay parents and have seen little to suggest that, beyond the criticisms they endure due to their parents’ sexuality (which is not the fault of the parents but rather of those who choose to bully and intimidate for reasons that only the bigoted mind may comprehend). I would be very curious to see a study go as far to include that data in their findings. After all, if embracing same sex parent households can help children in need of a loving and secure home, than is it not worth supporting?

  • Everyone has some bias on the subject of homosexual marriage but that doesn’t change the facts. If we give ourselves fully over to the deconstructionists, there is little left of humanity than one long series of reactions after another. Such is the course of natural materialism, of which the free-love/sexual liberation movement is more or less defined.

    At any rate, this is not the only research to surface that reveals problems. Another study lead by Dr. Douglas Allen of Simon Fraser University was published this week, which demonstrates educational disadvantages among the children of same-sex couples that was previously overlooked by Stanford sociologist, Dr. Michael Rosenfeld in his study.

  • Andrew Ryan

    There seems to be major problems with Allen’s study:

    “One challenge with both of these papers is that, according to Census Bureau estimates, 40% of the reported same-sex couples in the 2000 Census were likely different-sex married couples who miscoded the sex of one of the spouses and appeared to be same-sex couples…. Given that the bulk of these errors are among different-sex married couples who are substantially more likely to have children than same-sex couples, we now can assume that a substantial majority of the reported same-sex couples with children in the Census 2000 Public Use Microdata samples are likely different-sex couples with children.”


    “Buried in his dense commentary, Allen confesses this: “we are unable to reject the hypothesis that there is no difference.”

    Despite that fact, Allen told gay-bashing lies about his commentary in a pre-publication podcast with the Ruth Institute’s Jennifer Roback Morse. At the 14:15 mark of the podcast, Morse asks Allen if the “35% increase likelihood” of failing a year in school is “due to just the gayness,” with other variables — such as poverty — coming on top of “just the gayness.”

    Allen tells her that is correct.

    However, that is not what his commentary says. Allen’s commentary does not at all demonstrate causation between having gay parents and dropping out, so the phrase “due to just the gayness” is plain wrong. Allen’s commentary also does not find that gay parents’ children have a likelihood of higher than 35% of being held back a year, so Morse’s statement that other variables, such as poverty, come on top of “just the gayness” creates a false impression, a false impression which Allen irresponsibly reinforces to the Ruth Institute listenership.”

  • kamya john

    its terrible to hear that story,but

  • A new study answers this article’s question in the negative:
    “The American Academy of Pediatrics’ new policy, published online Thursday, cites research showing that the parents’ sexual orientation has no effect on a child’s development. Kids fare just as well in gay or straight families when they are nurturing and financially and emotionally stable, the academy says”

    The good news is that this allows people who care about children to support gay marriage without being worried that it will harm kids.