Monday, August 2, 2010

Debunking the myth that kids do better with straight parents

How often have you heard the words, "Studies show," and then a statement to be taken as fact? Increasingly, we need to apply a caveat emptor to such statements because around the GLBT issue, the opposition has a regrettable tendency to mis-state those studies.

I told you recently about a new study that shows kids of lesbian parents are doing in some measures better than kids with straight parents. Well, it turns out that study isn't alone.

A new paper, How Does the Gender of Parents Matter? from THe Journal of Marriage and Family (72:3-22 (2010)): takes on the frequently heard claim that "children do better with a mother and a father" , performs a meta-analysis of prior studies, and discredits the statement.

One of the authors comments (emphasis mine)

Significant policy decisions have been swayed by the misconception across party lines that children need both a mother and a father. Yet, there is almost no social science research to support this claim. One problem is that proponents of this view routinely ignore research on same-gender parents. The bottom line is that the science shows that children raised by two same-gender parents do as well on average as children raised by two different-gender parents. This is obviously inconsistent with the widespread claim that children must be raised by a mother and a father to do well.

When you go to the paper itself, it says (emphases mine)

Almost all of the studies [...] cited, however, compared single-mother with married-parent families. .....To support its claim that "a child who is not living with his or her own two married parents is at greater risk of child abuse" [they] cited studies of children who live alone with single mothers, in stepfamilies, or with their mother's boyfriends.It ignored research on lesbian and gay parenthood....

The entrenched conviction that children need both a mother and a father inflames culture wars over single motherhood, divorce, gay marriage, and gay parenting. ....Current claims that children need both a mother and father are spurious because they attribute to the gender of parents benefits that correlate primarily with the number and marital status of a child's parents since infancy. At this point no research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being.

What does this mean? It means that if you actually analyze the research, the claim that "a child does best with a mother and a father" is not true. What IS true is that a child does best with two committed parents in a stable relationship.

The sort of people who write comments in response to news articles or tweets have argued that the recent Pediatrics study cannot be true, because there may have been gay advocates supporting it. This is another version of only straight white Christian men are objective fiction, and completely ignores the fact that the study was published in a rigorously peer reviewed journal, which than you can say for most of their stuff. Indeed, those opposed to equality frequently point to studies from the anti-gay group NARTH. This is a long-discredited group that supports "gay cures" and their website (to which I won't link, as I will not send traffic to hate sites) is full of lies and misinformation.

Using NARTH as a source for scientific data on homosexuality is like using the Flat Earth Society for studies of Earth's geology.

But then, when has the right wing cared about science and facts?

SO: if you want to back up your contention that gay and lesbian parents do just as well and sometimes better than straight parents, send your opponents to the following studies for starters. Think of the Church and Galileo- you have truth,and the facts, on your side, and E pur si muove!

Biblarz, T.J., Stacey, J. (2010) How Does the Gender of Parents Matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 3-22

Gartrell, N. and Bos, H., Pediatrics (2010) US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolescents Pediatrics (online prior to publication) DOI10.1542.peds.2009-3153

Tasker, F. (2005). Lesbian mothers, gay fathers, and their children: A review. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 26, 224–240.

Telingator, C. J., Patterson C. (2008). Children and adolescents of lesbian and gay parents. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 1364–1368.More important than the gender of parents’ partners for teenagers’ adjustment, it seems, is the quality of relationships within the families they have.

More resources here, at the COLAGE website.

But here's the big one: From the American Psychological Association, Lesbian and Gay Parenting document, intended to provide resources "for the use of clinicians, researchers, students, lawyers, and parents involved in legal and policy issues related to lesbian and gay parenting." Here's what they conclude:
In summary, there is no evidence to suggest that lesbian women or gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of lesbian women or gay men is compromised relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psychosocial growth.

Update reviewing data that the kids are doing fine, from Alternet.

Update New study from U. Virginia shows that the gender/orientation of adoptive parents does not affect how well the kids are doing.

Update Media matters has another helpful summary here.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Thanks. It is good to have this all together in one place.