Studies on same-sex parenting: The details matter

Here on EBL, we’ve talked frequently about what makes for quality research. There’s new research out this month on gay parents that illustrates the importance of seeking out high quality research.

A new study by a University of Texas sociologist  surveyed nearly 3,000 Americans ages 18 to 39 to ask about their family structure growing up. Of the participants, 248 grew up in households where one parent  had a same-sex relationship at some point.  The study found that children of these parents were more likely than kids in other family structures to be on public assistance, unemployed or in therapy as adults, among other negative outcomes.

To collect information about same-sex parenting, the study asked: “Did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” and then asked whether participants had lived with their parents at the time.

But the question does not collect enough information about these families. Are they parents involved in heterosexual marriages who had an affair, or divorced and then entered into a same-sex relationship?  We just know. The study didn’t ask any questions about whether participants were raised in stable homes with committed parents who were of the same sex.

The study has sparked a flurry of media attention, including the New York Times and Time magazine, among other

s, with plenty of criticism. And the criticism is merited, said Ritch Savin-Williams, Director of the Sex and Gender Lab at the Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

“The research design of this study is sufficiently flawed (inappropriate comparison group) as to merit disbelief in the findings,” he said. “It is unclear if this major shortcoming was lack of scientific rigor or in some part influenced by the funding sources that have both religious and political agendas.”

There is a systematic review on same-sex parenting that provides more answers. The review looked at 33 studies that lesbian, gay and heterosexual parents. Their analysis found no difference in parenting ability or the children’s psychological and social success between same-sex and heterosexual parent partners.

Clearly, the issue of same-sex parenting is politically-charged for a lot of reasons. The point we’d like to make here on EBL is that it’s important to understand the details of research study, and draw your conclusions with all of the evidence.


  1. Dr. Gloria Brame says:

    Excellent critique! Sex and relationship studies fail and spread misinformation when wrong or incomplete questions are posed.

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