Study: Children of Lesbian Parents May Be Better Off Than Their Peers

Jim Burroway

June 7th, 2010

That’s the conclusion of researchers who followed a group of families headed by Lesbian couples for twenty-four years. This month, the journal Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, posted online the latest installment of the long-running longitudinal study which recruited and followed the children of 154 prospective lesbian mothers who joined the study between 1986 and 1992. The parents were recruited as they were about to start a family via artificial insemination. They agreed to answer questions about their children’s development, social skills, academic performance and behavior at five follow-up times as the children passed specific age milestones.

In four earlier published reports, the study team, led by the University of California, San Francisco’s Dr. Nanette Gartrell, published updates for the parents and their children. As five-year-olds, 87% of the children related well to their peers, but that 18% had experienced homophobia from their peers or teachers. When the children reached the age of ten, the study team found that the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse in this sample was lower than national norms, and in all other measures their development was comparable to children raised ni heterosexual families. Fifty-seven percent of the children were out to their peers, and 43% experienced homophobia.

In this latest report, the study’s authors report on how the children were doing as seventeen-year-olds, always a difficult age for familes. The authors report:

According to their mothers’ reports, the 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach’s normative sample of American youth. Within the lesbian family sample, no Child Behavior Checklist differences were found among adolescent offspring who were conceived by known, as-yet-unknown, and permanently unknown donors or between offspring whose mothers were still together and offspring whose mothers had separated.

Dr. Gartrell told Time magazine:

“We simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls,” says Gartrell. “I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn’t something I anticipated.”

There are, of course, several limitations to this study, limitations which are virtually universal to social science research. The study is based on a convenience sample which may not be representative of all children born to lesbian-headed households. Also, the nature of this study specifically excludes children born to earlier heterosexual families who were later raised by their lesbian mothers following divorce or death of a husband.

This study is one of the very few to suggest more positive outcomes than children from heterosexual families, a claim that would require more research before it could be regarded as anything more than an outlier.  But it’s easy to imagine one reason for this surprising finding. These parents were recruited because they were about to undergo artificial insemination. This means that in every case, these children were brought into the world because they were wanted and planned for. None of them are the product of a drunken tryst in the back seat of a Chevy. These mothers had to investigate options, invest money, and really want to become mothers. This alone can account for the difference.

Opponents to gay equality often warn that children raised in gay or lesbian households are allegedly harmed by the experience. This study joins about 200 others which, to date, have found no significant negative outcomes. If their argument had any hint of validity, you would think that at least a few peer-reviewed studies would support it. But so far, none of them looking specifically at gay- or lesbian-led families have. I guess opponents to LGBT equality will have to keep on looking.


June 7th, 2010

I read the study document – though the headlines are very good, and the data supports saying “no statistically significant differences” between lesbian parents and heterosexual parents – the social science restrictions you mentioned above are huge for this study.

The problem is demographics – and the NLLFS cohort is skewed:
93% white
47% from the Northeast and 43% from the West (1% Midwest and 9% South)
Compare with the CBL cohort:
68% white, 14% black, 13% hispanic
17% NE, 20% MW, 40% S, 24% W

I will grant the authors their caveat that 17 years ago, it was hard to find subjects for their study. I hope that a new longitudinal study is underway that alleviates this one’s demographic shortcomings.


June 7th, 2010

So, how long we give it until NOM or some other organization takes stuff from this study out of context or only focuses on homophobia?

Timothy (TRiG)

June 7th, 2010

Typo: “children raised ni heterosexual families”.

> in.

Ben in Oakland

June 7th, 2010

I think we need a movie about this. i have the title;

“An Inconvenient truth”

Timothy Kincaid

June 7th, 2010

We also have to consider that the study itself could have an impact on the outcome. These women may have felt a greater responsibility to raise their kids so as to positively represent the community.

But, nonetheless, the outcome is wonderful news.

Anti-gay activists invariably argue against recognition of same-sex couples because of “the children”. It is great to have (yet another) study to point at which refutes their claims.


June 7th, 2010

These are fascinating — and not at all surprising — findings. How much clearer could it be that the claim “children need a mother and a father” is as untrue and offense as any other unfounded bigoted stereotype?


June 7th, 2010

…these children were brought into the world because they were wanted and planned for. None of them are the product of a drunken tryst in the back seat of a Chevy. These mothers had to investigate options, invest money, and really want to become mothers. This alone can account for the difference.

This theory rings true for me as an adoptee and an adoptive father. I heard about my parents having really worked to get to the point to adopt me as an infant and know the struggles and careful consideration that my partner and I went through before adopting our son. You do not take parenting lightly after all that.


June 7th, 2010

I disagree with this: “This study is one of the very few to suggest more positive outcomes than children from heterosexual families, a claim that would require more research before it could be regarded as anything more than an outlier.”

This study is the ONLY study, so far as I am aware, to exclusively examine children raised by same-sex couples from birth.

All of the others include adoption and children from a previous opposite-sex marriage. Adopted children and children whose parents have divorced do not do as well — and that appears to be equally true regardless of whether their current caregivers are a same-sex couple or an opposite-sex couple. So any study that compares same-sex couples’ children who have lived through adoption or divorce with opposite-sex couples’ children who have not is starting out with a known and quantifiable disadvantage for the gay couples. This is the very first study, as far as I know, that is fair in that regard.

Since this is the first and only fair study, it cannot be considered an outlier. More research is always good, and I agree that the question is not settled, but there’s no reason to doubt that the conclusions of the study are valid.


June 7th, 2010

Hmm, and on the demographics note, what about their economic status?

Still, it’s yet another study that shows they don’t remotely do any worse.

But yeah, who needs science when you can pay a closet case religious retard $120,000, right?


June 8th, 2010

I’d be interested to see how gay male parents compare, since they’re more likely to have to adopt (barring the existence of a female friend willing to be their surrogate) and so have to jump through even more hoops to become parents. As opposed to, yes, the drunken tryst option pursued by so many hetero couples, or the two-horny-kids-with-catholic-school-cluelessness-about-birth-control route that produced me. The childhood resulting from that was as awesome as you’d expect. I’d take a pair adoptive gay parents any day.

Derrick Anderson

June 8th, 2010

While, I am far from conservative, this study is misleading. Lesbian couples probably don’t have many “accidents.” There probably aren’t many lesbian parents that are allowed to adopt that are life-long welfare recipients. There are a lot of children with heterosexual parents that aren’t wanted. There’s a lot more to this than the sexual preference of parents. A fit parent should be a fit parent. Period.


June 8th, 2010

“While, I am far from conservative, this study is misleading.”

Uh… the things you list all point to STRUCTURAL superiorities of same-sex couples.

I agree that it is possible that the sexual orientation of the couple is irrelevant and that these benefits are the result of factors that any infertile, child-seeking couple would have, but that just means that a huge majority of same-sex couples match the criteria that lead to better outcomes.


June 8th, 2010

@Derrick Anderson:

“There probably aren’t many lesbian parents that are allowed to adopt that are life-long welfare recipients.”

Lesbians don’t need to adopt. They can give birth. It is not difficult to obtain donor sperm. It is also not off limits to poor women. In fact, I believe this study was limited to children who had been with the couple since birth — i.e. not adopted. Anyway, this supports the study’s conclusions: if a subsection of the population is less likely to have children when they are unfit to raise them, then that makes that subsection of the population better at being parents.

“There are a lot of children with heterosexual parents that aren’t wanted.”

True. But again, this is an explanation that supports the study’s conclusions rather than contradicting them.

Regan DuCasse

June 8th, 2010

There is an interesting article in the NYTimes today that contemplates if this generation of young should be the last.
The analysis is on why people have children regardless of the conditions they have them in. That is to say, people have children who will inevitably suffer, even though the assumption is that most people especially wouldn’t want their child to suffer.
It doesn’t seem to matter how little educational opportunity there is, or governmental structure for health care or security.

Which won’t necessarily work in favor of the child’s survival. It’s true that a majority of the world’s children are born into poverty, violence and disease.
And the large population of human beings has negative impact on the resources of this planet to sustain it.

This wasn’t part of the article, but when the lives of gay people is debated based on not ‘naturally’ procreating, another obvious aspect is that, given the majority of most people for fertility, homosexuality is as important a factor in human survival as procreation.
That is to say that gay people have all the talent and skills to protect our species, without adding to it’s numbers and competition for resources.

Which is probably why the orientation of the parents doesn’t impact that of their progeny. And why gay people remain a constant factor in our species.
The numbers of gay people don’t change, except exponentially with the growth of the general population.
And, as I’ve said before, that the more fusion there is with male/female emotional character, is a tempering factor. Extremes between genders, especially artificially induced extremes of masculinity and femininity, is also dangerous to our survival as a species.
After all, an excess of testosterone, or unrealistic expectations of what a man should do, contributes to domestic violence.
Enough to wipe out whole families.

So, the artifice induced by religious belief that contradicts the natural tempering factor of homosexuality, or how many children can be efficiently sustained in a family or culture, is remarkable in how contradictory and self defeating it is.

Derrick Anderson

September 7th, 2010

I wasn’t arguing the results. The results are obvious without doing a study. You both really missed the point. It was a nice attempt though.


September 20th, 2010

Is there no such thing as a truly unbiased study based on scientific data.
Give me a break- The mothers were asked these questions. Well any mother could answer that their children are the most socially advanced well adjusted little darlings. The mothers also knew very well that this was a study to determine whether or not their decision to parent as lesbian partners would affect their children negatively. Research- I saw no evidence of research. I guess Americans aren’t taught about true research in school so they will fall for false data.What data is from the children, their teachers, their records with the legal system, or any unbiased persons connected with these children.

Emily K

September 20th, 2010


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