New evidence confirms same-sex parenting assessment

2 May 2019

Professor Walter R. Schumm, author of Wilberforce Publications book Same-Sex Parenting Research, looks at further studies that have been carried out since the book was published and finds that the research backs up his original conclusions: same-sex parenting does more harm to children than heterosexual parenting.

When one publishes a book, one has to wonder, how will it turn out? Will the scientific results be confirmed or rejected in subsequent reports? With that in mind, I turn to research reports on same-sex parenting that, for the most part, have been reported since Same-Sex Parenting Research: A Critical Assessment by Wilberforce Publications went to press in April 2018 (published in September 2018).

The “No Difference” Idea Remains Popular

First, the “no difference” hypothesis about same-sex parenting continues to thrive. It would seem that most scholars continue to believe that same-sex parents and heterosexual parents are equally good, if not any different from each other. For example, Patterson, Farr, and Hastings (2015) argued that there were no differences in outcomes for children of same-sex parents, even in sexual orientation identity.[1] Davis (2015) argued that any idea that same-sex parents were less stable than heterosexual parents or that the children of same-sex parents were disadvantaged relative to children of heterosexual parents were misconceptions that did not fit current scientific evidence.[2] Fettro and Manning in a chapter in a 2019 book, Contemporary Parenting and Parenthood: From News Headlines to New Research, edited by Michelle Janning, argue no less than a dozen or so times in favour of it.[3] If voting were to determine scientific fact, one would have to accept as “fact” many things that may not be true. Nevertheless, my argument about the considerable popularity of the “no difference” hypothesis, regardless of its factual accuracy, remains valid.

Estimated Rates of Same-Sex Parenting Are Even Lower

Second, even Fettro and Manning concede that only about a quarter of a million children are now living in the United States in a “same-gender-couple family”.[4] This is most interesting because at one time, as early as 1984, it was commonplace for scholars to argue that there were up to 14 to 28 million children in the U.S. living with same-sex parents. In my book, I argued for an estimate of 200,000 same-sex parent couples raising children in the U.S., but the Williams Institute, of the UCLA School of Law, has since (July 2018) estimated that number to be only 114,000.[5] If anything, my book overestimated the number of intact same-sex parent couples raising children in the United States.

Lesbian Parents Continue to Experience High Rates of Instability

Patterson et al. cited parental instability as one of several factors not boding well for positive child outcomes.[6] As discussed in my book, new studies have continued to find that lesbian couples are more likely to break up over time than either gay or heterosexual couples.[7] Farr and Goldberg stated in 2019 that “beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, researchers documented a higher dissolution rate for same-sex couples as compared with heterosexual couples.”[8]

Only a few years earlier, the same Goldberg, in her 2010 book, had argued that research on the dissolution of same-sex couples was “quite slim”[9] and used Gartrell’s longitudinal study of lesbian mothers to argue that break-up rates were similar for heterosexual and lesbian parents,[10] although on page 26 Goldberg argued that lesbian women might have more stable relationships due to their (female) enhanced communication skills. However, as of 2019, Gartrell and her colleagues reported in the Journal of Lesbian Studies that over 62% of the same lesbian mothers had broken up by the time their focal child reached 25 years of age.[11]

So, we have lesbian women more likely to become parents than gay men but also more likely to dissolve their relationships. Would not those facts lead to greater harms to their children – and to more children, relative to gay parents – because of the higher rates of instability? Furthermore, in some studies (such as, Balsam, Rothblum, and Wickham), the annual incomes of gay parents are substantially higher than those of lesbian or heterosexual parents. Any apparent advantages in stability could reflect that income differential. The bottom line remains that lesbian couples increasingly appear to have less stable relationships than either heterosexual couples or gay couples, as indicated in my book.
Educational Achievements of Children/Family Incomes

Much ink has been spilled on the outcomes for secondary education for the children of same-sex parents. I was recently asked to review an unpublished paper on such outcomes in the Netherlands.[12] On the surface, it appeared that the children of same-sex parents were doing slightly better than others in educational progress. It wasn’t until the last table on the last page of the paper that it was revealed that the married same-sex parents were earning nearly twice as much as most of the other parents. I am not sure that statistical controls can control adequately for such huge pre-existing differences.

Thus, as we continue to study children’s outcomes in a variety of areas of interest, we will need to take into consideration both parental stability and parental socioeconomic status before we rush to any firm conclusions about the role of parental sexual orientation or gender composition (there could be heterosexual parents of the same gender, as two widowed sisters or a mother and an older daughter raising young children).

Even so, if there do not appear to be significant direct effects of parental sexual orientation or gender composition, we should investigate whether the indirect effects are statistically significant. As I stated in my book, we need to test more complex models of the effects of parenting rather than merely making surface comparisons.

Sexual Orientation of Children

Another two areas in the book that have received confirmation recently include the issue of whether same-sex parents are more likely to raise LGB children. Gartrell, Bos, and Koh and her colleagues recently reported on the LGB issue and found that at age 25, the children of lesbian mothers were more likely than a comparison group to report being lesbian, gay, or bisexual in terms of attraction, identity, and behaviour, with daughters reporting higher rates than sons. Nearly 69% of the daughters of Gartrell’s lesbian parents reported being sexually attracted to women (and/or males); 30% reported being lesbian or bisexual; 54% reported having had same-sex sexual experience. Rates for sons of the lesbian mothers were 27%, 10%, and 33%, respectively.[13] The corresponding rates for the matched control group were, using weighted data, for women: 46.1%, 12.3%, 37.6%; and for men: 8.8%, 2.4%, and 8.8%.

Mental Health of Children

Furthermore, Gartrell, Bos, and Koh found in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that the children of lesbian mothers reported worse mental health, especially in terms of depression or anxiety, than those children of the control group (p = .01); however, that fact was obscured when the required significance level was artificially divided by 24, which rendered all of the results seemingly non-significant. However, the larger effect sizes were in the small to moderate range (0.22 to 0.46), which would suggest that the adverse effects were nonetheless real.[14]


Contrary to much of earlier social science, my book provided evidence that (1) estimates had been exaggerated regarding the number of intact same-sex couples raising children, (2) same-sex parents had higher rates of instability, (3) children of same-sex parents were more likely to grow up to be LGBT, (4) often their educational attainments were lower, although also influenced by parental socioeconomic status and instability, and (5) while same-sex parents reported that their children were doing well in terms of mental health, reports from the children themselves or other adults were often less positive. Research reported since the book was finished has continued to reaffirm what was reported in the book.

  1. Patterson, C. J., Farr, R. H., & Hastings, P. D. (2015). “Socialization in the context of family diversity.” In J. Grusec & P. Hastings (Eds.), Handbook of socialization: Theory and research (pp. 202-227). New York: Guilford Press.
  2. Davis, R. R. (2015, September). “Sexual orientation and mental health: Current evidence and misconceptions.” Paper prepared for the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at City University of New York School of Law, Iraq LGBT Project. New York, NY: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Social Science & Public Policy Center.
  3. Fettro, M. N., & Manning, W. D. (2019). “Child well-being in same-gender-parent families: Courts, media, and social science research.” In M. Y. Janning (Ed.),Contemporary parenting and parenthood: From news headlines to new research (pp. 283-301). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger (ABC-CLIO, LLC).
  4. Fettro & Manning (2019), p. 285.
  5. Goldberg, S. K., & Conron, K. J. (2018, July). How many same-sex couples in the U.S. are raising children? Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.
  6. Patterson, Farr & Hastings, P. D. (2015).
  7. Such as, Balsam, K. F., Rothblum, E. D., & Wickham, R. E. (2017). “Longitudinal predictors of relationship dissolution among same-sex and heterosexual couples.” Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 6(4), 247-257.
  8. Farr, R. H., & Goldberg, A. E. (2019). “Same-sex relationship dissolution and divorce: How will children be affected?” In A. E. Goldberg & A. P. Romero (Eds.), LGBTQ divorce and relationship dissolution: Psychological and legal perspectives and implications for practice (pp. 151-172). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 152.
  9. Goldberg, A. E. (2010). Lesbian and gay parents and their children: Research on the family life cycle. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, p. 114.
  10. Gartrell, N., Deck, A., Rodas, C., Peyser, H., & Banks, A. (2006). “The USA National Lesbian Family Study: Interviews with mothers of 10-year-olds.” Feminism & Psychology,16, 175-192, p. 115.
  11. Koh, A. S., Bos, H. M. W., & Gartrell, N. K. (2019). “Predictors of mental health in emerging adult offspring of lesbian-parent families.” Journal of Lesbian Studies, 23, 257-278.
  12. Mazrekaj, D., de Witte, K., & Cabus, S. (2018). “School outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples: Evidence from administrative panel data.” Working paper, Leuven Economics of Education Research (LEER), Leuven, The Netherlands.
  13. Gartrell, N., Bos, H., & Koh, A. (2019). “Sexual attraction, sexual identity, and same-sex sexual Experiences of adult offspring in the U.S.” National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, online advance.
  14. Gartrell, N., Bos, H., & Koh, A. (2018). National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study – Mental health of adult offspring. New England Journal of Medicine, 379, 297-299.
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