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