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Why do children of gay parents show no difference in outcomes?

Source: geralt


Because it is not the family structure that is actually the direct cause for negative outcomes, rather than other dynamics both antecedent and following events such as divorce:

Studies both from the USA (Amato et al. 1995; Hanson 1999; Booth and Amato 2001) and Europe (Dronkers 1999) have found that pre-separation parental conflict moderates the effects of the separationParental separation can be beneficial for children from high-conflict families, but is more likely to have negative effects when parental conflict was low and the separation came as a relative surprise.

[…] findings differ in their conclusions about the childhood stages most sensitive to family disruption, and the specific pattern of heterogeneity is likely to depend on the outcome studied.

[…] some findings [point] to stronger negative effects in families with high (Augustine 2014; Grätz 2015; Mandemakers and Kalmijn 2014) or low socioeconomic status (Bernardi and Boertien 2016a; Bernardi and Radl 2014; Biblarz and Raftery 1999; Martin 2012; McLanahan and Sandefur 1994).

In general, the family structure effects are weaker in groups in which parental separation and single motherhood are more common, which has been explained by less stigma, better ways of handling father absence, a broadly disadvantaged position with less to lose, or differential selection by unobserved factors, as argued by Erman and Härkönen in this Special Issue.

This is not to say that divorce has no negative effects, but:

In general, the accumulated research suggests that marital dissolution has the potential to create considerable turmoil in people’s lives. But people vary greatly in their reactions. Divorce benefits some individuals, leads others to experience temporary decrements in well‐being, and forces others on a downward trajectory from which they might never recover fully.

For example, it is often thought that family disruptions are an important factor in future delinquency:

However, intact high-conflict families predicted the same prevalence of offending as disrupted families. Boys not living with their mother, especially when they had lived in institutions before age 12 years, were most likely to become persistent offenders. Therefore, the dichotomy of disrupted versus intact family hides many important sub-groups, including those living with their mother (low-risk) and those who had experienced institutional rearing (high-risk).

The user you are quoting seems to be at least vaguely aware of this:

[…] “no difference” hypothesis even though we know that the death of a parent, divorce, adoption, and third-party reproduction do cause different outcomes in children […]

The immediate question here is: in which way a two-parent homosexual family is like a death, divorce, etc.? One is a family structure, of which there are not only “two-parent families” and “single-parent families” or “heterosexual” and “homosexual” families (there are many subgroups after all), the other examples are events.

Sure, they go on to argue that for a homosexual parent to have a child is to adopt them (if we ignore IVF), but they fail to add any nuance to their argument. Not all divorces or deaths happen in the same way, not all children have the same vulnerabilities, and citation needed for statements such as “[c]hildren grieve for dead parents for their whole lives

And as other users have pointed out, researchers control for several variables and explore things from different angles. There are good families and bad families, but on average are there significant differences between homosexual and heterosexual families other things being equal?

I will not attempt to contradict everything the user you quoted has suggested to be facts, but this user you quoted makes too many assertions with unwarranted certitude. For example, the so-called Cinderella Effect is not uncontested fact. For example, this study suggests that it depends on the country and thus that it is more about the context (the environment) than step-parents being inevitably less caring or more homicidal towards children they are unrelated to genetically:

In summary, our results do not support the conclusion that step-parenthood is the most important risk factor for child homicides in families (Daly & Wilson 1998). Furthermore, the differences in risks between Canada and Sweden suggest that cultural factors influence patterns of child homicide.

The Cinderella Effect has its origins in evolutionary psychology and is meant to be an example of how parents will care more for their genetic off-springs for evolutionary reasons. But that is not necessarily the case, for example:

Our analyses indicate that adoptive parents allocate more economic, cultural, social, and interactional resources to their children than do parents in all other family types. Their high levels of investment are due, in part, to their greater levels of income, education, and older maternal age. When these sociodemographic characteristics are controlled for, an adoptive advantage still remains […] Our research indicates that alternative family structures do not necessarily result in a disadvantage for children, and, in certain cases, alternative family structures may contribute to greater parental allocation of resources to children.




This is interesting. To add to this, do you know if there’s any research on whether parents planned to have a child has any effects on long-term outcomes? I’d imagine children of same-sex couples will also be more similar to heterosexual couples that plan children since they can’t really have unplanned children.




Yeah sure, there is, although there are issues such as what is unplanned anyway? For example, there are unplanned pregnancy (unwanted at all) and mistimed pregnancies (wanted at a later date). Another good example of how complex the topic can be.

That said, there are mixed results. For illustrative purposes:

Barber, Axinn and Thornton found that mothers with unwanted births “spank their young children more and spend less leisure time with them”:

We conclude that experiencing unwanted childbearing reduces the time and attention that mothers give their young children and that these early mother-child interactions set the stage for long-term, lower quality relationships.

Joyce, Kaestner and Korenman reached an opposite conclusion:

We found some evidence that unwanted pregnancy is associated with less healthy prenatal and postpartum behaviors, but that** it has little association with birth weight or child cognitive outcomes** […] In sum, our findings challenge the notion that unwanted pregnancy harms infant health and child development as measured in our data.

Marston and Cleland’s cross-national study highlights issues with measuring the concept:

With regard to validity, it may be doubted whether simple survey questions can represent subtle emotional states. It has been shown that women’s understandings of elements of ‘planning’, ‘intendedness’, and ‘wanted-ness’ are complex (see Barrett and Wellings 2002). In particular, attitudes before conception indicative of planning are likely to differ from attitudes after recognition of pregnancy, attitudes which embody reactions that are more purely emotional.

And differences in appreciation can depend on the country and the circumstances.

To compound the complexity of the issue:

Measurement error, in our view, is unlikely to be the main reason for the unexpectedly negative results in the remaining four of the five countries. The difficulty of disentangling effects of birth order from those of pregnancy intention is a more plausible reason. As shown in Figure 1, the proportion of pregnancies reported as unwanted rises steeply with ascending birth order, and it is possible that birth order captures a part of ‘wantedness’: an unwanted seventh child, for example might be ‘more’ unwanted than an unwanted third child. It is clear that birth order has a stronger and more pervasive influence than wantedness, as assessed by the survey question,on the outcomes studied here.

There are also studies about planned homosexual families, which also highlight the importance to control for problems that might be exclusive to homosexual families, such as a specific kind of stigmatization:

All the children in the present study had been brought up by a lesbian couple from birth and were living with both mothers at the time of the investigation. This may have an impact on the visibility of the lesbian families and so influence vulnerability to stigma. However, some interesting differences in the different forms of stigmatization were found between boys and girls in planned lesbian families. Girls perceive more gossip and boys experience more direct stigmatization, because they have two lesbian mothers. Furthermore, higher levels of rejection were associated with more hyperactive behaviour for boys and with lower levels of self-esteem for girls. This may have to do with the fact that, in general, stress among boys is more related to externalizing problem behaviour (like hyperactivity) and for girls stress is more related to internalizing behaviour (such as lower levels of self-esteem).

Just a last comment,

since they can’t really have unplanned children,

This is not entirely correct. It may sound pedantic, but it is important for research: not all homosexual people have children after coming out or outside heterosexual relationships (of whatever kind), i.e. there are studies about planned gay fathers defined as “gay men who become fathers after their coming out” and there are planned lesbian mothers defined as “lesbians who have opted for motherhood within a lesbian relationship”.



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