September 23, 2006

The Kids Are Alright

Posted at 3:17 pm (Pacific Time)

Debates about parenting by sexual minorities often include disputes about whether the children of gay, lesbian, and bisexual parents differ from the children of heterosexual parents in their psychological or social adjustment. To date, empirical research has overwelmingly failed to detect such differences.

A newly published study contributes to scientific knowledge in this area by comparing the functioning of adolescents raised by same-sex female couples to that of adolescents raised by heterosexual couples. The study is especially noteworthy because it reports data from a large, nationally representative sample recruited for the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

Drs. Jennifer Wainright and Charlotte Patterson, developmental psychologists at the University of Virginia, compared two groups: (a) 23 adolescent girls and 21 adolescent boys who were living with two female parents, and (b) 44 adolescents living with a male and female parent. The two groups were matched on relevant demographic characteristics, including sex, age, ethnicity, family income, and adoption status.

In their paper, which was just published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the researchers highlighted three main findings.

  1. All of the adolescents were generally functioning well.
  2. Whether an adolescent’s parents were a same-sex couple or a heterosexual couple didn’t affect her or his functioning. The researchers found no significant differences between the two groups in a diverse array of assessments, including measures of delinquent behavior, alcohol and drug use, and qualities of family relationships.
  3. Although the parents’ gender didn’t matter, the quality of the adolescent-parent relationship did. Regardless of whether they were being raised by a same-sex or heterosexual couple, adolescents whose parents described closer relationships with them reported less delinquent behavior and substance use.

These findings add to the growing body of research demonstrating that sexual orientation doesn’t affect parenting ability. What children need is a warm, close, supportive relationship with their parents, regardless of whether the latter are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight.

For the full report, see: Wainright & Patterson. (2006). Delinquency, Victimization, and Substance Use Among Adolescents With Female Same-Sex Parents. Journal of Family Studies, v. 20, pp. 526-530.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.