Friday, March 31, 2006

"Gay Parent" Research Full of Holes

Maggie Gallagher's Meaning of Marriage essay points out that in all but one of the subfields of research on parenting, there is a growing scholarly consensus that kids benefit most when they are raised by their own married father and mother. The one genre of parenting research that says otherwise is the research on homosexual parents.

The big claim made about the homosexual parenting research is that kids do just fine when raised by homosexual parents and same-sex couples. However, Gallagher cites Steven Nock's comprehensive review of the literature, which concludes that "all of the articles I reviewed contained at least one fatal flaw of design or execution."

One big hole in the whole body of gay parenting studies is that none (or maybe one) uses a nationally representative sample – a norm in family studies otherwise. Another big hole is that most of the gay parenting studies have been done by psychologists looking at gender identity and self esteem – important questions, but not like the range of economic, medical, academic, criminal, attitudinal, and behavioral measures that social science routinely asks about families. The psychological studies have found that children of homosexual parents are no more likely to be homosexual themselves than are other kids. It is a long way from that finding, though, to a conclusion that children of homosexual parents are no different from other kids across the board.

Lately, the major policy concern has been about same-sex marriage. The "no difference in the kids" claim has been applied to this debate, too. Yet one of Nock's important findings was that the vast majority of the studies of homosexual parents have been about lesbian single mothers. It is not so surprising that the children of homosexual single mothers are not that different from the children of heterosexual single mothers. But that is a long way from showing that the children of same-sex couples turn out the same as the children of their own married parents.

Gallagher can not answer the big question – do children of same-sex couples turn out the same as children of their married parents? – because there is almost no research on same-sex couples raising kids over time. And obviously, since the possibility of same-sex marriage has only existed for a few years anywhere, there is no research on the effect of same-sex married couples on their kids.

Gallagher expects that when such research is done, children of their own married parents will still do better. She thinks this because two biological parents still invest more in their own kids than one parent and a step-parent. Moreover, men and women, as a rule, are different, and children generally benefit from having both kinds of parents. Those lesbians couples which have done the best in raising boys, which I wrote about earlier, went out of their way to involve men as role models in their sons' lives.

Few researchers expect that same-sex couples will turn out to be bad parents. But it is very premature to conclude that their kids turn out the same in all respects as children of married parents.

13 comments:

Tom Strong said...

But it is very premature to conclude that their kids turn out the same in all respects as children of married parents.

And why is it not premature to claim the opposite - which many opponents of gay marriage do?

Gruntled said...

Since it is too soon to draw a conclusion either way, they shouldn't.

The reason to think that, in time, research will show a difference between the social outcomes for children of same-sex couples and children of their married parents is that children of other parent/step-parent couples turn out worse than kids of married parents.

Anonymous said...

I think we agree that these studies are inconclusive - but probably for different reasons. You seem to have accepted that there is sufficient commonality for accurate statistical comparisons between non traditional and "married parents" relationships. Most comparative studies I have seen reached only one universal conclusion - that the study's basis could only draw very limited if any comparisons because of limited reliable data available on non-traditional relationships and the inability of the study to define - much less eliminate extraneous bias. Few of these studies actually define exactly what they are comparing in "married parents" other than an active marriage license. There are vast differences among heterosexual marriages - cultural, religious, education and the basic mental processing or personality types of these couples. Averaging these differences out for comparison purposes - doesn't really eliminate the differences - it only hides them statistically and puts a greater statistical burden on the (order of magnitude) smaller non-traditional group. So, my questions is do these comparative studies adequately define the typical heterosexual married parent sufficiently to compare?. This very real question is whether the data basis for comparison is meaningful and significant enough to make judgment calls on individual relationships that are so diverse. When you look at "married parents" how do you factor in the more than 50% failure rate of the traditional "married parent" relationships? I doubt that anyone has reliable, or statistically comparable data on same sex parent relationship failure affects - regarding parenting. If so, how do weight another factor that can't be easily compared - the affect of non sanctioned relationships vs. sanctioned. How do you eliminate comparison biases of one group having a sanctioned (cultural, religious and legal) relationship in parenting from another group who is denied that?

Its a lot more than "premature" to make conclusions regarding parenting outs side of sanctioned relationships - it is likely impossible to draw accurate conclusions about parenting until you have a level and comparable playing field to make those comparisons upon. Thinking that statistics alone can level the playing field is the erroneous plague of modern social "sciences". In the end, after all the statistical dust settles, we are back where we started from - each of us responsible for the outcome of our own life, our relationships and our children - regardless of whom our partner maybe. Until you equalize parenting relationships culturally, religiously, and legally its not likely you can accurately compare their positive or negative affects on their respective child rearing abilities.

Gruntled said...

I do agree that there are several reasons to beware of comparisons between marriages and all kids of non-traditional couplings. Size of the groups is relevant, and the stigma on the latter can't help but make a difference. And, sure, there are vast differences among het marrieds.

I don't think we need to leap all the way from these difficulties to dumping statistical analysis altogether, though. The large studies comparing married and unmarried heterosexual parenting do show significant and consistent differences -- enough to convince me that marriage really does make a difference.

My expectation is that same-sex couples will, as a group, score similar to parent/step-parent couples in overall kid outcomes.

mjf said...

I am also curious about this point...

From my understanding, these studies are conducted under a "heterosexual v homosexual" cast. In other words, instead of comparing in-tact families to same-sex families, they compare homosexual couples raising children to heterosexual. That includes step-parenting, co-habiting, and other situations which are known to have an effect on the results.

Considering the current state where so many children are raised in "hetero" but various fall-back positions of parenting, that is a rather lousy standard to work against.

Because of this, it would seem appropriate to expect that these number show that children are not doing as well as in-tact families. And it would seem appropriate to expect that they continue to. For what are we really to believe is the real panacea on the homosexual parenting experience that makes up for the effects that divorce, adoption, donor-parenting, have on the childhood experience?

That said, I have no problem with the people doing the best they can raising children in a homosexual headed household. I think the numbers do show it isn't worse than divorce, co-habiting, or other conditions.

Gruntled said...

My guess, based on sociobiological principles, is that when we can really do apples-to-apples comparisons, children raised by both their married parents will do best, one natural parent and a step (het or homo) next, two adoptive (het or homo) slightly lower, and all the singletons after that, depending on how traumatic it was to get that way and how rich/attentive the parent is.

Anonymous said...

My expectation is that same-sex couples will, as a group, score similar to parent / step-parent couples in overall kid outcomes.

Don't you think it will have a stronger correlation to stability than to orientation of the parents? People say time and time again it's consistency that counts more than anything else. A child raised in a homosexual home their entire life, possibly even born from one parent, should thrive just like any long term married couple. If the child comes from a previous relationship I would expect the step analogy to be appropriate.

Gruntled said...

Well, I don't have any numbers here, just principles. On the face of it, though, the child of a homosexual couple is, at most, the natural child of only one of them, and, at best, the step-child of another. Step-kids do worse in het unions, so I would expect the same.

José Solano said...

The major problem of these comparative studies is that they refuse to recognize or ignore any understanding of what children should be growing up to me. There is no established standard for what is a wholesome individual in a growth process towards achieving the individuals’ potential. You are basically comparing primarily neurotic and dysfunctional people in a highly confused society with each other.

Now if you have a rosy colored picture of heterosexual marriages that is to a considerable extent defined by TV sitcoms or media enculturation lifestyles then we may well find that regardless of who is doing the parenting children will grow up to fit that model; superficial, vain, politically correct, dull reasoning ability, self-indulgent and pleasure oriented, prone to sexual promiscuity, easily frustrated and defeated by marriage commitments and family responsibilities, etc.

Any objective examination of whether children raised by cohabiting homosexuals or married heterosexuals are better off must be able to identify the objective indicators of what determines “better off.” If the very understanding of what is “marriage” is removed as an indicator of realistic thinking about harmonious family relationships, then the studies are immediately skewed in a certain direction without even getting into the other complications I’ve mentioned.

As I have not studied the studies who can say what are the given criteria for determining which children are better off. Is there a control group of say children raised by top mafia figures?

Gruntled said...

The research I have in mind uses much more mundane measures, such as whether kids complete high school, go to college, get good grades, become addicted to cigarettes, get drunk, sleep around, commit crimes, have kids without marrying, or report that they are unhappy. I don't know of any sociologically studies of superficiality and vanity.

José Solano said...

So let’s look at what they are measuring,

1. kids complete high school
2. go to college
3. get good grades
4. become addicted to cigarettes
5. get drunk (take drugs)
6. sleep around
7. commit crimes
8. have kids without marrying
9. report that they are unhappy

Can someone summarize the actual findings? Taking the indicators you have identified, how do kids with homosexual households compare issue by issue? Consider also hypothetically a third group, kids from top mafia families, homo and hetero. Remember, we are interested in determining how the lifestyle of the adults in the household impacts children raised in the household. I presume a similar socio-economic standard is given for all households.

I would guess that kids from homosexual households do as well or “better” than kids from the other two groups on numbers 1, 2, 3, 7. They do about the same as the other two groups on numbers 4, 5, 6, 8, 9.

Mafia household kids do as well or better than non-Mafia heterosexual household kids in numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. They do worse in number 4.

And what do these data tell us about the positive influences on children raised in these households? Zilch. Children are to an enormous extent raised and influenced by schools and neighborhoods. They are molded by TV “society” and pop-media. Only socio-economic status significantly impacts these indicators, as SES significantly impacts educational level.

Of course, as you have noted, there is very meager data out there because there are not many homosexual households that have been raising kids long enough to provide good longitudinal studies.

The truly important questions are not being asked. They are factored out. Instead of the Mafia group we could have added the polygamy, polyamory, adultery, etc. and I would think that kids from these groups would also not show significant differences in the areas being measured.

To frame the correct questions one must first establish what it means to attain maximum human potential. What is the direction towards that attainment. Do perverse sexual relationships impede that development? They certainly don’t stop you from getting good grades or graduating from college.

hutcoach said...

My question is this...who gave you the right to say what is right or wrong..normal or not? There are no perfect parents, no perfect households. Of course there are differences -the question is this...who gets to decide whether they are worse or bad? Religion plays way too much of a role in your decision making, along with most extreme right wing activists. Unfortunately, you would much rather see a child being beaten and starved, than to allow a prosperous, loving, same-sex couple raise him...it really is sad. If everyone would just worry about their own households, the world would be a much better place! The gays and lesbians are not ruining marriage -the now 60% divorce rate is flourishing on its own.

hutcoach said...

My question is this...who gave you the right to say what is right or wrong..normal or not? There are no perfect parents, no perfect households. Of course there are differences -the question is this...who gets to decide whether they are worse or bad? Religion plays way too much of a role in your decision making, along with most extreme right wing activists. Unfortunately, you would much rather see a child being beaten and starved, than to allow a prosperous, loving, same-sex couple raise him...it really is sad. If everyone would just worry about their own households, the world would be a much better place! The gays and lesbians are not ruining marriage -the now 60% divorce rate is flourishing on its own.