Saturday, June 16, 2012

iMAPP Marriage News

May 18, 2012

·  How Different are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study

·  Same-Sex Parenting and Children's Outcomes: A Closer Examination of the American Psychological Association's Brief on Lesbian and Gay Parenting

·  Douglas W. Allen: The Regnerus Debate

·  William Saletan: Back in the Gay

·  Studies Challenge Widely Held Assumptions about Same-Sex Parenting


iMAPP Marriage News

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How Different are the Adult Children of Parents who have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study
Social Science Research
Mark Regnerus
June 10, 2012

Abstract

The New Family Structures Study (NFSS) is a social-science data-collection project that fielded a survey to a large, random sample of American young adults (ages 18-39) who were raised in different types of family arrangements. In this debut article of the NFSS, I compare how the young-adult children of a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship fare on 40 different social, emotional, and relational outcome variables when compared with six other family-of-origin types. The results reveal numerous, consistent differences, especially between the children of women who have had a lesbian relationship and those with still-married (heterosexual) biological parents. The results are typically robust in multivariate contexts as well, suggesting far greater diversity in lesbian-parent household experiences than convenience-sample studies of lesbian families have revealed. The NFSS proves to be an illuminating, versatile dataset that can assist family scholars in understanding the long reach of family structure and transitions.

Highlights

The New Family Structures Study collected data from nearly 3000 adults. I compare young adults who grew up with a lesbian mother or gay father. Differences exist between children of parents who have had same-sex relationships and those with married parents. This probability study suggests considerable diversity among same-sex parents.

Same-Sex Parenting and Children's Outcomes: A Closer Examination of the American Psychological Association's Brief on Lesbian and Gay Parenting
Social Science Research
Loren Marks
June 3, 2012

Abstract

In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued an official brief on lesbian and gay parenting. This brief included the assertion: "Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents" (p. 15). The present article closely examines this assertion and the 59 published studies cited by the APA to support it. Seven central questions address: (1) homogeneous sampling, (2) absence of comparison groups, (3) comparison group characteristics, (4) contradictory data, (5) the limited scope of children's outcomes studied, (6) paucity of long-term outcome data, and (7) lack of APA-urged statistical power. The conclusion is that strong assertions, including those made by the APA, were not empirically warranted. Recommendations for future research are offered.

Highlights

A 26 of 59 APA studies on same-sex parenting had no heterosexual comparison groups. In comparison studies, single mothers were often used as the hetero comparison group. No comparison study had the statistical power required to detect a small effect size. Definitive claims were not substantiated by the 59 published studies.

The Regnerus Debate
National Review
Douglas W. Allen
June 14, 2012

I am a Canadian economist who has worked on family issues in Canada and the U.S. for the past 26 years. Although I've mostly studied matters of divorce, custody, child support, and the general institution of marriage, for the past few years I've been working on series of empirical projects related to same-sex marriage. I've been using a special data set in Canada that is large (over 300,000 individuals) and random (with weights), that directly identifies sexual orientation, and that was designed by Statistics Canada. In the process of working on same-sex marriage I have read almost every study conducted on same-sex parenting. I say all of this because, unlike most people who have commented on the recent Regnerus study, I'm a qualified outsider to the U.S. debate and perhaps can provide some (relatively) neutral assessment.

The study published by Professor Mark Regnerus this week certainly has some flaws, and many of the comments made about it have some merit. However, as a matter of intellectual honesty, it needs to be recognized that virtually all the studies of same-sex parenting that have been conducted thus far fall far short of any standard of scientific testing.

Of the 50-plus such studies done in the past 15 years, the vast majority come to the same conclusion: Children of gay parents perform at least as well as children from heterosexual families; there is no difference in child outcomes based on family structure.

For several reasons, this literature is unlike anything else within social science. First, it partly arose from, and was strongly influenced by, legal cases in which lesbian mothers were denied custody of their children on the basis of their sexual orientation. Second, for the most part it has been written by individuals with strong personal worldviews who sympathize with those studied. Third, the focus of the literature is often on "soft" measures of child and family performance that are not easily verifiable by third-party replication, and that differ substantially from measures used in other family studies. One of the odd characteristics of this literature is the lack of consistency of measures across time. Subsequent studies seldom test for measures that were used in previous studies. Fourth, the data and procedures used in the studies are never made available online in order for other scholars to replicate findings. And finally, almost all the literature on gay parenting is based on weak designs, biased samples, and low-powered tests.

The result is a nascent literature that falls far short of standard social-science research. At its best, the literature contains interesting exploratory studies that raise provocative questions and make interesting observations. At its worst, it is advocacy aimed at legislators and judges - which may explain why, despite its weak scientific nature, the literature is characterized by strong recommendations for policy and legal changes to family regulations.

The bias of the same-sex-parenting literature has been recognized by individuals within and outside this literature (indeed, in the same issue of Social Science Research as the Regnerus study, Loren Marks has provided another critique of this literature). Ironically, the common complaint about Regnerus - that he compares apples to oranges - is valid about practically every study that finds no difference between homosexual and heterosexual families. In the latter, biased samples of high-income, highly educated, self-selected lesbian parents are compared to random samples of opposite-sexed parents.

If the Regnerus study is to be thrown out, then practically everything else in the field has to go with it. I think Regnerus needs to be applauded for what he did and didn't do. He tried to use a random sample; he developed many hard measures of outcomes; and he is making all the data and procedures available for others to sift through. Inadvertently, he is going to draw attention to the failures of other studies in terms of their design and methodology, and he has demonstrated how difficult it is to find a large sample of this elusive population. He also didn't make a lot of unjustified claims in his study. He was careful to note that he made no case for causality, and that his findings may or may not be related to the same-sex aspect of the adult relationship. He didn't take his results and announce a series of policy recommendations. He has simply called into question the claim that there is no difference.

Others are working on this very issue, and soon better studies will be published. In my own work, I'm also finding differences in behavior and in child outcomes. Given how small the population of same-sex parents is, given how many different channels children might take to find themselves in a family with two parents of the same sex, and given how much data it takes to sort through all of these issues, the bottom line is this: We've got a long way to go before we can answer the question: Are children better off, the same, or worse off in same-sex families compared to intact biological families?

The political contest that is going on in the U.S. over same-sex marriage is not helping the social science. It took almost 40 years for academics to figure out the effect of no-fault divorce on divorce rates (not to mention all the other areas of life no-fault divorce influenced). With same-sex marriage and parenting, the issues are much more profound and more difficult to measure. Rushing the work or, worse, pushing research claims beyond what the studies justify, is bad social policy. This goes for both sides of the debate.

Douglas W. Allen is the Burnaby Mountain Professor of Economics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia

Back in the Gay
Slate
William Saletan
June 11, 2012

Is same-sex marriage a good idea? Or is an intact biological family the best environment for raising a child? The answer may turn out to be yes and yes. That's the curious implication of a study reported yesterday in Social Science Research and outlined in Slate today by its principal investigator, sociologist Mark Regnerus. The study, which found inferior economic, educational, social, and psychological outcomes among children of gay parents, comes across as evidence that homosexuals are unfit to raise kids. But the study doesn't document the failure of same-sex marriage. It documents the failure of the closeted, broken, and unstable households that preceded same-sex marriage.

The project, known as the New Family Structures Study, was sponsored, to the tune of nearly $800,000, by two socially conservative funders: theWitherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation. In his journal article, Regnerus says it "clearly reveals that children appear most apt to succeed well as adults-on multiple counts and across a variety of domains-when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father." InSlate, he notes, "On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who've had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families, displaying numbers more comparable to those from heterosexual stepfamilies and single parents."

These findings shouldn't surprise us, because this isn't a study of gay couples who decided to have kids. It's a study of people who engaged in same-sex relationships-and often broke up their households-decades ago.

To understand the study, you have to read the questionnaire that defined the sample. It began by asking each respondent, as the child of this or that kind of family arrangement, his age. If the respondent was younger than 18 or older than 39, the survey was terminated. This means the entire sample was born between 1971 and 1994, when same-sex marriage was illegal throughout the United States, and millions of homosexuals were trying to pass or function as straight spouses.

The survey went on to ask: "From when you were born until age 18 . . . did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?" If the respondent said yes, he was put in the "gay father" (GF) or "lesbian mother" (LM) category, regardless of subsequent answers. But if he said no, a later question about the relationship between "your biological parents" was used to classify him as the product of an "intact biological family" (IBF) or of an "adopted," "divorced," "stepfamily," or "single-parent" household. In other words, broken families were excluded from the IBF category but included in the GF and LM categories.

This loaded classification system produced predictable results. In his journal article, Regnerus says respondents who were labeled GF or LM originated most commonly from a "failed heterosexual union." As evidence, he observes that "just under half of such respondents reported that their biological parents were once married." Most respondents classified as LM "reported that their biological mother exited the respondent's household at some point during their youth." Regnerus calculates that only one-sixth to one-quarter of kids in the LM sample-and less than 1 percent of kids in the GF sample-were planned and raised by an already-established gay parent or couple. In Slate, he writes that GF kids "seldom reported living with their father for very long, and never with his partner for more than three years." Similarly, "less than 2 percent" of LM kids "reported living with their mother and her partner for all 18 years of their childhood."

In short, these people aren't the products of same-sex households. They're the products of broken homes. And the closer you look, the weirder the sample gets. Of the 73 respondents Regnerus classified as GF, 12-one of every six-"reported both a mother and a father having a same-sex relationship." Were these mom-and-dad couples bisexual swingers? Were they closet cases who covered for each other? If their kids, 20 to 40 years later, are struggling, does that reflect poorly on gay parents? Or does it reflect poorly on the era of fake heterosexual marriages?

What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people. But that finding isn't meaningless. It tells us something important: We need fewer broken homes among gays, just as we do among straights. We need to study Regnerus' sample and fix the mistakes we made 20 or 40 years ago. No more sham heterosexual marriages. No more post-parenthood self-discoveries. No more deceptions. No more affairs. And no more polarization between homosexuality and marriage. Gay parents owe their kids the same stability as straight parents. That means less talk about marriage as a right, and more about marriage as an expectation.

The study does raise a fundamental challenge for same-sex couples. Since they can't produce children from their combined gametes, they suffer, in Regnerus' words, "a diminished context of kin altruism." He points out that in studies of adoption, stepfamilies, and cohabitation, this kinship deficit has "typically proven to be a risk setting, on average, for raising children when compared with married, biological parenting." Homosexuals who want to have kids could emulate the biological model by using eggs or sperm from a sibling of the non-biological parent, though the effects of this practice on family dynamics are unknown.

But the infertility of same-sex couples also confers an advantage. As Regnerus acknowledges, "Today's children of gay men and lesbian women are more apt to be 'planned' (that is, by using adoption, IVF, or surrogacy) than as little as 15-20 years ago, when such children were more typically the products of heterosexual unions." In fact, "Given that unintended pregnancy is impossible among gay men and a rarity among lesbian couples, it stands to reason that gay and lesbian parents today are far more selective about parenting than the heterosexual population, among whom unintended pregnancies remain very common, around 50%." And the more planned your child is, the more likely it is that she'll turn out well. Based on previous research, Regnerus predicts that outcomes among children of stable, planned same-sex families are "quite likely distinctive" from outcomes among children of failed heterosexual unions.

The study's main takeaway, according to Regnerus, is that kids of gay parents have turned out differently from kids of straight parents, and not in a good way. I'm sure that conclusion will please the study's conservative sponsors. But the methodology and findings, coupled with previous research, point to deeper differences that transcend orientation. Kids do better when they have two committed parents, a biological connection, and a stable home. If that's good advice for straights, it's good advice for gays, too.

Studies Challenge Widely Held Assumptions about Same-Sex Parenting
Deseret News
Lois Collins
June 9, 2012

The oft-cited assertion that there are "no differences" in outcomes between children of same-sex parent households and those of intact biological families may not be accurate, according to a new study published today in the journal Social Science Research.

Adult children of parents who have been in same-sex relationships are different than children raised in intact biological families on a number of social, emotional and relationship measures, according to research from the University of Texas at Austin.

Among other things, they reported lower income levels, poorer mental and physical health and more troubled current romantic relationships. The study found 25 differences across 40 measures.

The research does not address why the differences exist. It doesn't predict if changing attitudes that are more accepting of same-sex relationships will mean that children growing up today with same-sex parents will one day fare better in similar analysis. It doesn't address stigma or whether the difference is not the sexual preference of the parents but rather how stable the home life was, lead investigator Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at University of Texas Austin's Population Research Center, told the Deseret News.

"Nor does the study tell us that same-sex parents are necessarily bad parents," he said in a written statement. "Rather, family forms that are associated with instability or non-biological parents tend to pose risks for children as they age into adulthood."

His study does challenge long-held assertions that there are no outcome differences between children raised in intact biological families and those with same-sex parents.

A question of bias?

A separate analysis in the same journal edition by Loren Marks, associate professor at Louisiana State University, more directly challenges previous same-sex parenting studies as inadequate, biased and unreliable. He lists seven concerns with the science, including the fact that "well-educated, relatively wealthy lesbian couples have been repeatedly compared to single-parent heterosexual families instead of two-parent marriage-based families." Single-parent families typically have poorer child outcomes across several measures, so it's easier to look better against them, he said.

W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia said biological married families are the gold standard for better outcomes for children.

How children fare in different family structures is a timely question because those on both sides politically of the gay marriage issue said the very studies Marks criticizes are often referred to by judges and legislators as authoritative in showing that lesbian mothers, in particular, are as good or better parents than biological, married parents. The American Psychological Association asserted as much in a brief in 2005, citing that research.

"The claims in that brief seem premature and overstated," Marks said. "I'm not trying to say the truth is 180 degrees in the other direction. That would be premature and overstated as well. But we need high-quality science on this topic that informs decisions with more valid and generalizable data."

Attempts to interview a spokesman from the APA or a primary author of the brief were not successful. The research published Sunday is certain to be controversial, Marks said, adding he is not affiliated with either political party. "I never wanted to be co-opted on either side as someone to hate or as a campaign manager for anybody."

A broad-based sample

Regnerus used data from the New Family Structure Study (NFSS) to see how adults ages 18 to 39 who were raised by same-sex parents do on various outcomes compared to those raised by married biological parents, co-habiting adults, a single parent, step-parents or adoptive parents, among others. NFSS has data from more than 3,000 adults, including 175 who said their mother had a same-sex romantic relationship and 73 who said their father did. Regnerus said his findings were more valid on lesbian-mom households than gay-father households because they included more families and also because those studied were far less likely to have actually lived in gay-dad households. A cursory look might lead some to conclude incorrectly the study found gay dads were better parents than lesbian moms. The sample wasn't large enough to draw strong conclusions about the men.

Data on display

Regnerus plans to make his data public. "In a piece like this that is overturning conventional wisdom, the onus is on me to be very up-front about how I reached my findings." He said he will post the research design, codebook and statistical analyses online Monday. The study said lesbian mothers compare most favorably to step-families and single parents, not to intact biological families. He noted the step-, single and lesbian mom families structures all clearly included some upheaval.

The study does not say same-sex parenting is responsible for the outcome differences. "Causality would mean I ruled out other plausible explanations. I didn't. I can't say something about being a lesbian is particularly pernicious for young adult outcomes." But if he can't explain the outcomes he found, he said, neither can earlier studies, which were less robust and found the opposite.

He eliminated socioeconomics, age, politics, gender, geography, race and bullying as explanations for the gaps he found between family structure types.

Is it the stigma the parents felt? He doesn't know. "We didn't talk to parents, and I can't measure stigma." Single-parent and step-families have, much like same-sex parents, "a higher degree of instability" compared to intact biological families, he said. It's probably not just having a man and woman, either, since step-families have those and the kids don't fare as well.

Stability matters

"I think what good research does is open the door to replication and explanation," said Cynthia Osborne, associate professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, who wrote one of the commentaries for the journal. "We're going to need to see if what we're finding here in his study will be replicated through lots of robustness checks, looking from various angles, cutting the data in different ways and coming up with the same thing. That's the next step."

Social science research seldom explains causation, said Osborne. And finding differences takes a back seat to understanding their cause and importance. A mom in a same-sex relationship may have had lots of different family structures, from a failed marriage to same-sex dating and cohabitation. "We know that change in family structure matters a lot in children's outcomes," Osborne said. With the variations, "comparison of family structure to partnership choice is an interesting comparison, but it doesn't take us far enough."

Another commentator, David Eggebeen, associate professor of human development and sociology at Pennsylvania State University, said data are never perfect. They range from not yielding any conclusion through data that beg caution to "really good data where you can be a lot more confident." The NFSS data, he said, "get us closer to being a representative population."

He called the Marks paper a "little disquieting" because of the disconnect between imperfect data and claims that same-sex parents are equal or superior to other parents.

Replication

Studies consistently say kids in a biological married family with both parents "are advantaged compared to any other kind of family," Osborne said. That alone raises a "conundrum" with the previous finding that same-sex couples have equal outcomes, "since that almost always implies a step-parent, a cohabiting partner - what we call a social father or social mother - divorce, adoption, at least one of those things." Some studies say those things don't disadvantage same-sex parent families.

But she also is bothered that some would use differences to bar same-sex couples from having kids without understanding what causes those differences. "I hope people will take it on and look at related and more complex statistical questions," said Eggebeen. If Regnerus' findings don't hold up, why? I would see this as the beginning. The provocative findings get us to look at this."

Researchers on both sides say more research is needed and it could be years before the impact of changing family structure on children is clear. It's an important public conversation, said Wilcox. "I think as a society we do value the well-being of children across the spectrum. We would like to create a context where kids could thrive."

If the findings are replicated, the whys need to be answered, he said. "How much instability, how much community stigma, how much biological ties, and how much differential access to the legal institution of marriage account for the differences the Regnerus study finds? I think if you look back historically on the impact of divorce on children, there were a number of chapters and a changing story emerged about the impact on children. I think the Regnerus study is bringing us to a new chapter. The first suggested no difference, the second will suggest there are some. The third chapter is going to be trying to figure out the differences."

Douglas W. Allen, the Burnaby Mountain Professor of Economics at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, said that no matter what future studies say about same-sex families, scientific methods have to be protected so they can't be hijacked by political pressures on either side. Science must be robust and careful, a proper probability sample the basis for any claim about a broad population.

His criticism of most of the studies since 2005 mirrors Marks'. All but one was a convenience study, called that because the subjects are "convenient" to gather into the sample. You want to study lesbians, so you ask a friend you know who is lesbian if she'll answer questions. That turns to the snowball study, when you ask if she knows other lesbians you can talk to as well, he said.

Those types of studies made up most research on same-sex parenting. "That's totally fine to do if you're just interested in exploratory work," said Allen, who doesn't know Regnerus or Marks. "Often an area of research starts this way. The problem comes when you try to extrapolate what you find to the broader population. You cannot. It says absolutely nothing about the population of lesbian and gay parents, only about those particular ones."

Allen expects a lot of people to try to poke holes in Regnerus' work. But expected criticism that it was privately funded or not rigorous enough will be the "pot calling the kettle black. Other studies are off-the-charts biased bad," he said. Every researcher has biases, but when enough tackle a question, truth "sifts to the top." However, it may take a couple of decades, he warned.

Disputes abound

Not everyone agrees with his assessment. "The research up to this point has shown absolutely no difference of any note - and in some cases, differences that might be considered in favor of lesbian parents," said David Brodzinsky, professor emeritus of clinical psychology at Rutgers and research director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. He had not seen the new studies, which the reporter did not share because of an embargo. Instead, he spoke in general terms. "In 25 years of study, more than 50 studies have not found the negative outcomes that critics are concerned about. That doesn't mean all the studies are well designed. Some are not. But there are studies that are relatively reasonable sizes, nonconvenience samples and at least reasonably representative that have been used as a database for looking at questions about same-sex parenting."

Both sides told the Deseret News they believe opposing researchers approach topics from what Brodzinsky called "a political perspective." "We find that critics continue to make claims that simply aren't supported by the research," he said. The need, he noted, is not so much tracking negative outcomes - "I think most scientists are reasonably satisfied that a gay parent can be damaging, as can a straight parent" - but finding what supports or undermines a child's positive development.

While Brodzinsky said some studies show young adults raised by same-sex parents are more likely to acknowledge same-sex curiosity and even experimentation, there is not evidence they are more likely to self-identify as gay or lesbian. "Even if they did, is that an adjustment difficulty? Not according to the APA," he said. "It does not translate to risk for depression or other kinds of adjustment problems." Research has found no different outcomes based on parental sexual preference in the cognitive development and social success of offspring, he added. The same is true for delinquency and victimization. What is a fair criticism of the literature on same-sex parenting, he said, is that it has looked almost exclusively at middle-class families. "A lot of research on single parenting is confounded by the fact they have fewer resources." People who choose to parent as singles, gay or straight, tend to be middle or upper-class and the data looks quite good for the children, he said. "Single parenting is as much about resources as it is about the quality of parenting."

The Regnerus study is unusual, as well, because it questioned the children, now adults, themselves, instead of asking the parents to report on how they thought their kids were doing.

 

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