Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hard Science, Gay Parents, Good Kids

Family values are often brought up in the discussion of marriage equality, usually in the context of questioning how gay folks do as parents.

Michael Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Standford, recently added some new scientific data to the growing collection of LGBT-family-affirming studies. Most notably, his facts and figures come the country’s largest source of data, the U.S. Census. In a study published this month in the journal Demography, Rosenfeld concludes that children being raised by same-sex couples have the same educational achievement as children raised by married heterosexual couples.

“The census data show that having parents who are the same gender is not in itself any disadvantage to children,” he said. “Parents’ income and education are the biggest indicators of a child’s success. Family structure is a minor determinant.”

In fact, Rosenfeld’s study shows that children of gay and married couples had lower grade-repetition rates than their peers raised by opposite-sex unmarried couples and single parents. And all children living in some type of family environment did much better than those living in group housing.

“One of the fundamental issues in modern family law that differs from state to state is whether same-sex couples can adopt,” Rosenfeld said. “My research makes clear that there’s a huge advantage to kids to be out of the care of the state and into the care of any family.”

Because gays and lesbians make up a smaller proportion of the American population (and those with children are a just tiny sliver), it has been difficult for researchers to conduct a representative study of how their children perform in the classroom. Opponents of marriage equality often criticize earlier studies for having sample sizes that are too small.

“Sample size is power,” Rosenfeld said. “And the census is the biggest sample we have. This study is based on a sample of thousands and thousands of kids.”

Despite the fact that the cost of becoming parents may be higher for gays and lesbians than for heterosexual couples, gay couples who did have children had substantially lower income and educational attainment than gay and lesbian
couples in general. Nevertheless, their kids did well.

Children of gay parents also tended to be racial minorities. Only 22.9% of children of heterosexual married couples are black or Hispanic, whereas 41.6% of children of gay men are black or Hispanic, and 37.1% of children of lesbians are black or Hispanic.

“Social scientists have an obligation to shed light where they can on issues that are roiling the public,” he said. “Sometimes we have to throw up our hands and admit that something is unknowable. But in this case, we could bring some real hard data to bear on an area that was otherwise really in the dark.”

"The analysis in this article, the first to use large-sample, nationally-representative data, shows that children raised by same-sex couples have no fundamental deficits in making normal progress through school. The core finding here offers a measure of validation for the prior, and much-debated, small-sample studies."

(I remember the first time I heard one of my kid's friends lament the unfairness of not having two dads. Who knew how truly disadvantaged he was? Still, it behooves us all not to hold any child's parentage against him! 8-])

1 comment: