Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Kids from same-sex families fare as well as peers – or better

It’s often suggested that children with same-sex parents have poorer outcomes because they’re missing a parent of a particular sex. But research my colleagues and I published in the journal BMC Public…

Same-sex parents are more likely to share child care and work responsibilities more equitably than other families. Jessica Lucia/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

It’s often suggested that children with same-sex parents have poorer outcomes because they’re missing a parent of a particular sex. But research my colleagues and I published in the journal BMC Public Health shows this isn’t the case.

In fact, we found children in same-sex families scored better on a number of key measures of physical health and social well-being than kids from the general population.

But stigma is a common problem. Around two-thirds of children with same-sex parents experienced some form of stigma due to their parents’ sexual orientation which, of course, impacts on their mental and emotional well-being.

Our method

Research in this area has traditionally focused on lesbian parents and used small sample sizes. So we surveyed 315 same-sex attracted parents with a total of 500 children, aged up to 17 years, across Australia.

These children are growing up in a range of family contexts formed in a range of ways; from previous heterosexual relationships, to assisted reproductive technologies and same-sex co-parenting arrangements. Around 80% had female parents and 18% had male parents.

We asked the parents to answer a range of questions on health and well-being using internationally recognised measures. This produced a set of scores that represent overall child health.

Parent reports are necessary to determine how young children are faring. While parents don’t always view health experiences in the same way as their children, there is no evidence to suggest that any group of parents systematically overstate child well-being in population research.

We compared the responses from the same-sex parents in our study to established population samples. This allowed us to interpret our findings against population norms.

What we found

Our results suggest children with same-sex attracted parents are doing well in terms of their overall health and that their families are getting along really well.

We found that children from same-sex families scored, on average, 6% better on two key measures, general health and family cohesion, even when controlling for a number sociodemographic factors such as parent education and household income. But on most health measures, including emotional behaviour and physical functioning, there was no difference when compared with children from the general population.

In spite of doing well, many children did experience stigma, which was linked to lower scores on a number of scales. Stigma can be subtle, such as letters home from school addressed to Mr and Mrs. Or it can be overt and very harmful, in the form of bullying and abuse at school. The more stigma the family experienced, the greater the impact on the social and emotional well-being of the children.

Our findings support and strengthen the existing international research undertaken with smaller sample sizes.

Despite the barriers, children of same-sex parents are doing well. Joyce Pedersen/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Interestingly, there is growing evidence to suggest 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.

Politicising same-sex families

A little more than two years ago Doctor’s for the Family created headlines by suggesting that:

the evidence is clear that children who grow up in a family with a mother and a father do better in all parameters than children without.

This claim was prompted by a senate inquiry into marriage equality. Over the subsequent months, discussions about the place of children in same-sex families have continued, with remarkable comments coming from many corners arguing that same-sex attracted people are not fit to raise children.

Senator Ron Boswell asked, “who takes the boy to football? Who tells him what’s right from wrong?” Senator Cory Bernardi compared homosexuality to bestiality. And although the ACT tried to legislate for marriage equality, the federal government struck down those laws on the grounds that they were constitutionally invalid.

Now this conversation continues. Adoption laws across Australia are inconsistent, with states such as New South Wales and Western Australia allowing same-sex adoption.

The issue of adoption has risen to the fore in Victoria as we move towards a state election. Current state legislation does not allow same-sex couples to access adoption and as a result many same-sex families live with a degree of insecurity over parenting rights. This particularly affects those with long-term foster children or those born through surrogacy.

In the lead-up to Victoria’s November election, the Victorian Labor Party is ready to support adoption reform. The state Liberal Party is yet to commit either way but has left it to backbencher Clem Newton-Brown to consider the issue as he fights to hold onto his gay and lesbian friendly seat of Prahran.

As we move into a fresh round of debates on the suitability of same-sex attracted people to be parents, it’s important that we remember that the words of politicians can have a detrimental impact on the 33,000-plus same-sex families in Australia.

But in the face of a number of such barriers, including stigma and legislated discrimination, children with same-sex parents appear to be doing well. Instead of criticising these loving family units perhaps it is time to see what we can learn from them – for the benefit of all our children.

Join the conversation

38 Comments sorted by

  1. Michael Quinlan

    logged in via LinkedIn

    I love your passion Simon. From memory, most of the passionate research on this topic is frequently critiqued as being too emotive/biased.emphatic in favour of same sex parenting, frequently portrays parents as victims and I have not come across a single situation of references to "peer reviewed studies" that studies a family beyond an extremely short time horizon of the child's life. In other words, if there are problems, the time frame of the study period is too short to evaluate self esteem/self…

    Read more
    1. Rachel Richardson

      Sub Dean, Pathways and Partnerships at Charles Sturt University

      In reply to Michael Quinlan

      Michael, with respect to the example you offer to counter same sex parenting, I must ask do you have any evidence to show that 'opposite sex' parents interfere with normal sexual development in children? Many male children are raised by mothers only and increasing numbers of girls are parented solely by fathers (my son is dating one). I don't think there is any evidence that such parenting interferes with natural psychosocial development for 'opposite sex' children - when other factors like income…

      Read more
    2. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to Michael Quinlan

      "The connection between a mother and child is biological. the connection between a father and child is not biological."
      What on earth is that supposed to mean? My children have as much biologically of me as they do of their mother. At the most basic level that is a copy of each chromosome from each biological parent. If the suggestion is that I can be presumed to care less for my children than my wife, then I find that an insulting nonsense.
      As for single sex parenting. I can only comment on a few…

      Read more
    3. Lynne Black

      Latte Sipper

      In reply to Michael Quinlan

      "I love your passion!" - don't be so damn patronising, Michael.
      Just because a young girl might be living with two homosexual males doesn't mean she doesn't ever come into contact with other females - gay guys have sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, female friends, all of whom can take an active part in a young girl's life, just like in a heterosexual parenting situation.
      Or do you espouse the Ron Boswell's philosophy that women are unable to take their kids to the footy, or can't teach their children "right from wrong".
      It's a new world, Michael, a whole new era, when all people, whatever their sexual orientation, can enjoy having a family of their own. Get used to it.

      report
    4. Derek Mccue

      Mental health nurse

      In reply to Michael Quinlan

      Michael you are trying to argue that the evidence is emotional and you respond with an emotional hypothetical not supported by any evidence.

      report
    5. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Derek Mccue

      Agree, Derek. Michael is groping in the dark and spewing fear of his unknown. Perhaps not unlike Bernadi?

      report
    6. alan w. shorter

      research assistant

      In reply to Rachel Richardson

      Rachel, I agree that the psychosexual dynamics of ALL of us as we go through puberty and young adulthood (and of course beyond), are largely in the hands of the gods. Those differential hormonal surges have got a mind of their own, untameable by even the most scrupulous parenting. Teenagers themselves find it all bewildering and overwhelming, which makes the experience as wonderful, as it can be equally wretching. How any one child will experience that period is completely unpredictable, and immune to crude reductions, such as the sexuality modelling of parents. The fact is just about all gay, lesbian, and trans people were raised by heterosexual parents! I am looking forward to research, which we will no doubt increasingly see, of how lesbian couples deal with their hormonal teenage sons!

      report
    7. Glenn Baxter

      Web Developer

      In reply to Rachel Richardson

      You are wrong Ms Richardson, the reality on the ground is that boys with absent fathers struggle:

      “I don’t even know how to speak up for myself, because I don’t really have a father who would give me the confidence or advice.” -Eminem

      report
    8. Catherine Scott

      Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Glenn Baxter

      We could quote Bertrand Russell who said that no father was better than the very best father. But maybe he had dad issues.

      Instead let's quote the research that says that ongoing parental conflict is the stronger predictor of children's outcomes in non-intact families. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bul/110/1/26/

      And that father absence doesn't affect boys worse than girls:
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2006.00239.x/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

      The belief that it does seems to come from a yucky girls' germs attitude to women as somehow contaminating men.

      report
  2. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    The study used a convenience sample. Self-selecting respondents are likely to be motivated and aware. I'm interested how the methodology compensated for the possibility of skewed results.

    report
  3. Richard McGrath

    Lecturer in Health Sciences at University of South Australia

    Interesting research findings. Nice to see some work being conducted with a larger, diverse range of families. Well done.

    @James - the issue with many survey based research is that respondents are self selective. That is participants have an interest in the topic or issue under study. Surveys require participants to volunteer their time and views. As such they decide whether to participate based on interest. Also, the issue the study incorporated a convenience sample is justified. In fact most surveys adopt a convenience sample strategy to enable the study to be conducted in a timely and efficient manner. These methodological issues do not detract from the findings

    report
  4. Richard McGrath

    Lecturer in Health Sciences at University of South Australia

    The finding concerning the impact of stigma resonates with findings from research in other fields as well, particularly disability and race studies. Overt and subtle (or covert) stigma is an issue that many marginalized people face on a day to day basis and plays a key role in their health status. Revealing these forms of stigmatization needs to occur as well.

    report
  5. Derrick Dobson

    Private Investigator

    Nowadays we can commission a 'study' to prove or disprove just about anything. I prefer the instinctively more commosensical view that a child benefits best from having a traditional mummy and daddy, one female the other male.
    This is not to disparage same sex parents necessarily, but the traditional arrangement is a 'gold standard' that can't be beaten for all the obvious and oft-argued reasons.

    report
    1. Meg Thornton

      Dilletante

      In reply to Derrick Dobson

      Derrick, are you aware this "traditional arrangement" is actually very, very modern indeed? Prior to approximately the 1920s, for the vast majority of families, the "traditional" family consisting solely of male patriarch, wife and small number of children (usually 2 - 3) all genetically related to both husband and wife, living in a single detached dwelling owned by the patriarch and his partner, with no other permanent inhabitants who are not genetically linked to both partners, was incredibly…

      Read more
    2. Derek Mccue

      Mental health nurse

      In reply to Derrick Dobson

      Derrick your deduction isn't supported by any evidence, that makes it an opinion.

      report
    3. alan w. shorter

      research assistant

      In reply to Meg Thornton

      Good point about women dying during childbirth. Then again, there's all the men who died during the never-ending wars.

      report
    4. David Grover

      Sessional lecturer in ICT at Macquarie University

      In reply to Derrick Dobson

      Derrick, I note this in Simon's study:
      "While parents don’t always view health experiences in the same way as their children, there is no evidence to suggest that any group of parents systematically overstate child well-being in population research."
      What are they teaching in research methodology these days?
      Really?! In a survey of same-sex couples wining to establish that their children are not disadvantaged?!

      report
  6. Kristin Gillespie

    Parent

    A very interesting article, thanks Simon.

    As a single mum who strongly advocates and supports my children's contact with their father I have to say that my own personal experience and from observing others (including same-sex parented families) is that the single most important factor in a child's upbringing is whether the parent(s) are caring and engaged primarily in the child's welfare. I totally agree that kids are generally better off with two parents, and even with contact with parents (or…

    Read more
  7. Dave Bradley

    logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

    Homosexuals have always made up between 7% and 10% of society for thousands of years for as long as history is available. That makes homosexuality as normal as heterosexuality.
    That homosexual couples who choose to raise children are judged differently than heterosexual couples who choose to raise children are judged differently and become targets for bigotry is more a measure of the values or intentions of the bigots than anything else.
    Ordinary families are being attacked at every level by this…

    Read more
    1. Glenn Baxter

      Web Developer

      In reply to Dave Bradley

      I don't think your 7% to 10% stat is accurate, it is more like 3 -4% and even less for lesbianism.

      report
  8. Jaye Early

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Why are such articles and research still being published and undertaken? To consistently appease the always anxious, condemning, and punishing straight masses? Why is same-sex parenting still being pathologized, documented, dissected and analysed like its the 1800s? How is this not a reflection of systemic and institutionalised homophobia? Where's all the research to prove that opposite-sex couples are good/bad parents? I mean they (mostly) do a more then adequate job and producing maladjusted, insecure, self-hating, and self-esteem depleted children in chaotic, violent, and highly dysfunctional environments. This seems to be always conveniently sidestepped.

    report
  9. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Dave Bradley

      logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

      In reply to James Green

      Sure not mixing this up with the Budget Commission of Audit

      report
  10. alan w. shorter

    research assistant

    "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 bread winner."
    Hmmm...I don't know about that. The ASCHSS data reveal that the working patterns of lesbian parents are almost identical to mothers in heterosexual relationships - more skewed to part-time work; while the working patterns of gay male parents are almost identical to fathers in heterosexual relationships - more skewed to full-time work. In fact the really interesting differences are not between gay vs straight couple, but between gay males vs lesbian couples. From my personal circles, I'd bet good money that the difference is explained by gay male couples spending a lot of money on hired help.

    report
    1. Glenn Baxter

      Web Developer

      In reply to alan w. shorter

      Even more interesting is this advocacy research uses overwhelmingly more lesbian relationships than gay male ones. That's because gay males are not nearly as motivated to 'nest'. This only reinforces the so called 'gender sterotypes' Feminist and their allies are trying to 'smash' - females are more biologically driven to child raising.

      report
  11. Bob from Canberra

    in his anecdotage

    in another article on this survey, one person said that the results were biased by having a same-sex parent on the team.
    Surely the results could be skewed by having opposite-sex parents on the team.

    To keep that comentator happy - in a logical way - the team would have to have people who were not in a relationship, were not brought up by parents, and who are not heterosexual, homosexual nor any other type of sexual.

    report
    1. Glenn Baxter

      Web Developer

      In reply to Bob from Canberra

      No the results would not be skewed by having opposite-sex parents on the research team as they would not feel they had "something to lose".

      More interesting is the reality that the social sciences are jam packed with New Left/Femnist types pushing a particular world view. The 'social sciences' are particularly susceptible to ideological manipulation.

      report
  12. Comment removed by moderator.

  13. Catherine Scott

    Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne

    The gold standard for scientific research is replication. Findings that kids with same sex parents do as least as well on average as those with hetero parents is venerable. Goes back to the 80s. Here's an example from the early 1990s from Child Development: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1992.tb01679.x/abstract

    Much of the advantage that kids in same sex families experienced is due to the on average higher education of the parents.

    report
    1. Glenn Baxter

      Web Developer

      In reply to Catherine Scott

      It is not venerable by a long way. There is simply not large enough samples in those research findings. Also some projects the researcher herself was a lesbian who recruited her friends for it - talk about advocacy research!

      The social sciences are called the 'soft sciences' for a reason.

      report
    2. Glenn Baxter

      Web Developer

      In reply to Catherine Scott

      "Much of the advantage that kids in same sex families experienced is due to the on average higher education of the parents."

      Wasn't the research supposed to have filtered out issues like household income? After all the research is about the effects of same sex families not household income on kids.

      report
    3. Michael Quinlan

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Catherine Scott

      Is great to see some interest in the undertaking of research in this area CAtherine, as my understanding is that there is very little peer reviewed studies to support the hypothesis that gay parenting can meet child development needs to the same level as heterosexual parenting. Apparently the current research is extremely limited by the time horizon of the studies which might typically cover a few months of the childs developmental period.... and is frequently skewed with bias from the parents assertions…

      Read more
  14. Josh Godda

    logged in via Facebook

    This is exactly what we would expect to find because the shared environment has no effect on a child.

    report