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Lgbt parenting studies

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To date, the consensus in the social science literature is clear: in the United States, children living with two same-sex parents fare, as well as children residing with two different-sex parents. Numerous credible and methodologically sound social science studies, including many drawing on nationally representative data, form the basis of this consensus. These studies reveal that children raised in same-sex parent families fare just, as well as children raised in different-sex parent families across a wide spectrum of child well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse.

Lgbt parenting studies

Academic Performance and Cognitive Development

Convenience or snowball samples are more common in the literature, and the most widely used data source is the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS). The NLLFS is based on interviews with donor-inseminated lesbian mothers five times from insemination or pregnancy to the child’s 17th birthday (e.g., Gartell and Bos 2010; Goldberg et al. 2011; van Gelderen et al. 2012a) and since 2002, 15 studies used these data. This recruitment strategy is considered acceptable given that few national surveys are large enough to include many children raised by same-sex parents. Relying on convenience samples means that the same-sex parents within these studies are not representative of all same-sex parents and represent only those who were targeted and agreed to participate, perhaps selective of the most highly functioning families. Yet, this approach does provide key insights into a group that is challenging to capture in large-scale surveys. At times, the findings from this sample are contrasted to results from a national sample of adolescents in the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) (Gartrell et al. 2012).

Publication type, MeSH terms


As shown in Table 1, the studies focusing on child well-being are based on a wide range of sample sizes. The sample sizes of same-sex parent families range from 14 (Welsh 2011) to 3,502 (Rosenfeld 2010) with studies including a median of 78 respondents and seven consisting of more than 100 children from same-sex parent families. The range of sample sizes often rests on the methodological approach. Small sample sizes in quantitative surveys can be problematic because they may prevent distinguishing between key sources of variation that differentiate same-sex parent families, such as gender of parent, biological relationship of children to parents, and the time a child has spent in a particular family. Another issue with small sample sizes is statistical inferences may be challenging or harder to detect and may be biased. These issues are recognized by authors, and they at times speak to the range of effect sizes that are detectable with their approach. At the same time, smaller sample sizes in qualitative or observational data, as well as targeted surveys provide an in-depth assessment of specific family experiences that are unavailable in large-scale surveys.

Publication type, MeSH terms

This assessment of the literature is based on the social science research on child well-being in same-sex parent families over the last decade (published work since 2002). This time restriction focuses on children’s most recent family experiences. The review is limited to studies based on U.S. respondents and includes over 40 published original studies in reports, book chapters, and journal articles. There have been many recent reviews of the literature (e.g., Biblarz and Stacey 2010a, b; Biblarz and Savci 2010; Bos et al. 2005; Marks 2012; Meezan and Rauch 2005), but few have been recent enough to include all of the latest literature. Taken together, the studies included in this review represent a collection of extensive research and indicate that children under the age of 18 raised by same-sex parents fare, as well as their counterparts in different-sex families. The gold standard for much research on American families is the use of nationally representative data (Russell and Muraco 2013). Yet, as discussed below there are many valid reasons why nationally representative data may not be available to study same-sex parent families. We discuss the handful of recent studies reporting that children fare worse on any measure of child well-being (Allen et al. 2013; Goldberg et al. 2011; Gartrell et al. 2011; Regnerus 2012a, b), and each has shortcomings making broad generalizations impossible.

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Recent legal cases before the Supreme Court of the United States were challenging federal definitions of marriage created by the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s voter approved Proposition 8 which limited marriage to different-sex couples only. Social science literature regarding child well-being was being used within these cases, and the American Sociological Association sought to provide a concise evaluation of the literature through an amicus curiae brief. The authors were tasked in the assistance of this legal brief by reviewing literature regarding the well-being of children raised within same-sex parent families. This article includes our assessment of the literature, focusing on those studies, reviews and books published within the past decade. We conclude that there is a clear consensus in the social science literature indicating that American children living within same-sex parent households fare just, as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households over a wide array of well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse. Our assessment of the literature is based on credible and methodologically sound studies that compare well-being outcomes of children residing within same-sex and different-sex parent families. Differences that exist in child well-being are largely due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability. We discuss challenges and opportunities for new research on the well-being of children in same-sex parent families.

Next Steps in the Study of Same-Sex Parent Families

Twenty-three empirical studies published between 1978 and 2000 on nonclinical children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers were reviewed (one Belgian/Dutch, one Danish, three British, and 18 North American). Twenty reported on offspring of lesbian mothers, and three on offspring of gay fathers. The studies encompassed a total of 615 offspring (age range 1.5-44 years) of lesbian mothers or gay fathers and 387 controls, who were assessed by psychological tests, questionnaires or interviews. Seven types of outcomes were found to be typical: emotional functioning, sexual preference, stigmatization, gender role behavior, behavioral adjustment, gender identity, and cognitive functioning. Children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes. The studies indicate that children raised by lesbian women do not experience adverse outcomes compared with other children. The same holds for children raised by gay men, but more studies should be done.

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Table 1 provides a list of the studies used in the review of the literature (as well as the update), and are organized alphabetically. We denote whether the studies are based on nationally representative data or convenience samples; the number of children in same-sex parent families; the age range of children; and type of same-sex parent family. The four nationally representative data sets include the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K), National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), New Family Structures Study (NFSS), and U.S. Census data. Each data source reflects family experiences across a unique time period. For example, the ECLS-K is a cohort designed to represent the experiences of children who were in kindergarten and first grade in 1999 and 2000 and mid-adolescents in 2010. The Add Health references the experiences of teenagers (12–18) during the mid-1990s. The Census presents the living circumstances of school-age children in 2000. The NFSS is not specific to an age group or time frame, and it is challenging to assess a broad spectrum of ages and time periods. New data collections that reflect the current social, legal, and political environments are merited.

Psychological Well-Being

The American Sociological Association (ASA) filed an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court outlining social science research findings on the well-being of children in same-sex parent families on February 28, 2013 (Brief for the American Sociological Association 2013). Sociological research was used in a number of cases reaching the Supreme Court, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 in California (Prop 8). A talented legal team led by Carmine Boccuzzi at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton LLP prepared arguments, wrote the final brief, and submitted the brief to the Supreme Court. The ASA has a tradition of contributing the consensus on social science research findings to the legal system.
Below we provide our assessment of the literature that was used to assist in the preparation of the amicus brief. The ASA Council requested a balanced review of the current social science literature on the effects of same-sex parenting on child well-being. The aim of this review was to note that the strengths and weaknesses of prior research and offer a scientific assessment of what can and cannot be concluded from the evidence. The review we present here developed through work with the legal team and has been reorganized and modified for journal publication. Since the filing of the amicus curiae brief, there have been a few new studies which are discussed in the “update” section at the end of the document. The ASA continues to submit amicus briefs in state and circuit court cases.

Child Well-Being in Same-Sex Parent Families: Review of Research Prepared for American Sociological Association Amicus Brief

The majority of these studies are cross-sectional rather than longitudinal. Longitudinal data collections permit temporal alignment of family experiences and child outcome indicators. An advantage of longitudinal data is that causal inferences regarding how family circumstances shape child well-being can be established. However, longitudinal studies may suffer from issues of attrition and typically reference a specific cohort of respondents. A cross-sectional approach provides a snapshot lens on families and may include retrospective reports of children’s living arrangements provided by parents or child respondents. Most cross-sectional work relies on measurement of current family structure and current indicators of well-being (e.g., Averett, Nalavany and Ryan 2009; Erich et al. 2005; Farr et al. 2010; Rosenfeld 2010), and a few studies retrospectively determine family structure and well-being based on recall of childhood experiences (e.g., Goldberg 2007a; Joos and Broad 2007; Regnerus 2012b). Two key exceptions are analyses using the ECLS-K and the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Survey (NLLFS) which are both longitudinal panel surveys. As shown in Table 1 a wide variety of data collection strategies has been employed to study child well-being in same-sex parent families.

Publication type, MeSH terms


To date, the consensus in the social science literature is clear: in the United States, children living with two same-sex parents fare, as well as children residing with two different-sex parents. Numerous credible and methodologically sound social science studies, including many drawing on nationally representative data, form the basis of this consensus. These studies reveal that children raised in same-sex parent families fare just, as well as children raised in different-sex parent families across a wide spectrum of child well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse.

Outcomes for children with lesbian or gay parents. A review of studies from 1978 to 2000.


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Differentials in Child Well-Being in Same-Sex and Different-Sex Parent Families


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