Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Regnerus' Study Shows that There Are Differences Between Children of Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Parents

Mark Regnerus has published the first results of his New Family Structures Study, the first study to allow comparisons with a representative sample of adults raised by lesbian and gay parents. The controversy is already hot.  Up until now, the conventional wisdom has been that there is no difference between children raised by same-sex couples and those raised by their natural parents. However, that conventional wisdom was based on non-representative samples of same-sex parents - who are pretty rare, and hard to find in even the largest representative surveys.

To get a taste of the differences Regnerus found, each of these comparisons between the young adult children of intact biological families and lesbian-couple families is statistically significant. They show percentages of the children of intact biological families first, then of lesbian couples second:

Currently cohabiting:  9 vs 24
Received welfare growing up: 17 vs 69
Currently on welfare: 10 vs 38
Currently employed full time: 49 vs 26
Currently unemployed: 8 vs 28
Voted in last presidential election: 57 vs 41
Identifies as entirely heterosexual: 90 vs 61
Had an affair while married/cohabiting: 13 vs 40
Ever touched sexually by a parent or other adult (as a child): 2 vs 23
Ever forced to have sex against your will: 8 vs 31

Clearly, there are some differences between the children of lesbian couples and of intact biological families.  What exactly causes those differences will be the subject of much further debate.

I was struck though, by the next comparison in the table: between the children of intact biological families and gay-couple parents. Here are all the statistically significant differences:

Received welfare growing up: 17 vs 57

And that is it.

What might account for the difference between lesbian-parent effects and gay-parent effects? This is a complex question, not answerable from this evidence.  But I have a hunch: involved fathers.


Brendan said...

I'm not seeing the data you see, I'm afraid. Regnerus did not gather data about children raised by gay or lesbian couples. His specific question was

"From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?"

Emphasis in the original. This is a vastly different thing than asking whether a respondent was raised by a same-sex couple. In fact, he specifically excludes the children of gay marriages:

"It does not evaluate the offspring of gay marriages, since the vast majority of its respondents came of age prior to the legalization of gay marriage in several states."

In other words, he compared stable families to broken families where the likelihood is that one or both parents were unfaithful, and got the conclusions he sought.

Gruntled said...

The question you quote is the screening. In the full survey, they asked about living with the parent and same-sex partner.

"Among those who said their mother had a same-sex relationship, 91% reported living with their mother while she was in the romantic relationship, and 57% said they had lived with their mother and her partner for at least 4 months at some point prior to age 18. A smaller share (23%) said they had spent at least 3 years living in the same household with a romantic partner of their mother’s.

Among those who said their father had a same-sex relationship, however, 42% reported living with him while he was in a
same-sex romantic relationship, and 23% reported living with him and his partner for at least 4 months (but less than 2% said they had spent at least 3 years together in the same household), a trend similarly noted in Tasker’s (2005) review article on
gay and lesbian parenting."

Gruntled said...

Regnerus did not claim to be comparing the children of heterosexual marriage with the children of same-sex marriage, for the reasons you note.

He is answering the oft-repeated claim that research has already shown that there is "no difference" between the children of same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Brendan said...

Fair catch on the screening question, but he's still compounding data in a way that makes his answer to that claim meaningless. Having one set composed entirely of people whose parents stayed together their whole lives, and the other sets composed of mostly (77%!) people who lived with two female parents for less than three years or with two male parents for less than four months, is in no way a reasonable comparison. Regnerus claims to be studying children of "same-sex families"--his phrasing, used repeatedly--but in fact three-quarters of those people must have spent most of their lives in a household with opposite-sex parents or single parents.

Jared said...

Fair warnings:

1. I am not a professional (or even amateur) sociologist (I took two anthropology courses 12 years ago :) ). I'm a mathematician and engineer by trade.

2. I haven't had time to read the study in any detail whatsoever.

3. I'm gay.

All that said, these results certainly don't square whatsoever with my life experience; and, if they hold, would be contrary to lots of what I think of as "common sense." That certainly doesn't mean that they aren't true, but in Mathematics we often ask ourselves to "sanity check" our results with common sense, and apply heightened scrutiny when things fly in the face of common sense.

The children of committed gay and lesbian couples that I know (and I know many, I live as a part of that community)

As one example of how this doesn't square with my experience, those children were (almost always) adopted by parents who were pre-screened for stable income and cohabitation. It doesn't make sense that a significantly higher number of them would be on welfare growing up - in fact, the very process that allows them to be a child of a same-sex couple would seem to drastically decrease the chances that they could be living on welfare as children.

It definitely doesn't pass the "smell test" well enough for me to believe much of what the study says without significant validation of his methods.

Gruntled said...

The weakness of previous studies of same-sex parents was that they were drawn in just the way your "smell test" sample was - people like the educated, upper-middle class researchers.

What this probability sample found is that about half of the children raised at some point by same-sex couples were conceived in natural-parent couples. Lesbians were especially likely to have had children in heterosexual marriages that failed. And failed marriages often lead to welfare spells during the early years of the children.

Peter Smith said...

I'm still working my way through the research, but I don't understand the fuss. It seems like this report confirms something almost everyone can agree on -- that it's hard on kids to grow up in a broken family. Plus, it can only be harder on a kid whose family is viewed as socially and religiously as suspect, or at least odd. In other words, this study could used to argue for legalizing and blessing gay marriage. Many of the families involved heterosexual marriages that broke up, and in which one of the parents went into a same-sex relationship. The more that same-sex marriage or unions are normalized, couldn't it be argued that gay people will come out of the closet earlier, be less likely to go into a heterosexual marriage, be less stigmatized for their orientation and be less traumatized by a divorce?

Ultimately the challenge to reading any data so far is that we have literally no way of knowing the long-term outcomes of children of legal same-sex marriages, since it's only been 8 years since it began in Massachusetts. (Of course, it's been a few years longer in Vermont, but we're still looking at young adults as the oldest cohort to have grown up in stable, legally recognized same-sex homes). I have a hunch that as these studies continue, we'll find the divide in outcome to be sharpest between stable and unstable households.

Gruntled said...

The context of Regnerus' paper is that the conventional (politically correct) wisdom is that there is no difference between children raised by same-sex couples and children raised by married natural parents. At the least, he shows that this is not so.

Studies of children raised in presumably straight-parent families consistently show that kids in every other structure are likely to be worse off that kids raised by their married natural parents. Thus, even kids raised by married, "out" gay and lesbian couples are likely to be worse off in some respects, for the same reasons that kids raised by adoptive parents and step-parents are worse off.

Diane M said...

I'm with Peter Smith on this one. The problem here wasn't that the kids were raised by same sex couples. They mostly weren't.

The problem is that their parent went and married someone of the opposite sex. That blew and they ended up divorced. Then their kids had all the problems you would expect from children of divorce.

Let, no, encourage, people to have same sex marriages and we'll see a much better situation.

Previous studies may have had biased samples, but this is just a bias in the other direction.

Diane M said...

As for more difference with lesbian couples than gay couples that could be because:

There were many fewer kids being raised by gay dads than lesbians. Lesbians can get pregnant on their own. Gay men might not get custody in a divorce. Without enough kids who ever lived with a gay parent and another man, the results don't end up being significant.

Men have a lot more money than women. Money prevents a lot of problems. So the woman who leaves a marriage and lives with another woman may have a lot less disposable income than the one who remarried with a man. So they might end up living in a neighborhood with bad schools, etc. And the man who leaves and lives with a guy could end up even more money than his wife and her new husband.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the whole thing, but glancing over it, it doesn't seem to be a fair comparison. They're comparing children raised in a stable home in which the parents remained married their entire childhood to families in which there was a same sex relationship at some point. It seems that the fair comparison is stable hetero married parents to stable same sex parents who truly raised the children as a parental unit from birth to adulthood - not just as a boyfriend/girlfriend passing through for a few years. Granted, the number of children raised by a same sex couple who was together throughout their childhood must be quite small, but the socioeconomic factors that don't seem to be controlled for in comparing stable households to "broken" households are significant.

Anonymous said...

This includes and has links to a robust rebuttal of the study:

Gruntled said...

I asked Regnerus about the timeline. He says the article was accepted on the basis of early data, but they left the survey in the field to the last minute to add a few more cases. He explained this to Cohen, who has, I believe, retracted the criticism.