Study Finds Lesbian Parents May Benefit a Child’s Psycological Adjustment

A new study into same-sex parenting released on Monday in the journal Pediatrics has yielded some interesting but controversial findings for those who have always maintained that children do best in heterosexual families.
Conducted by researchers Nanette Gartrell, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, and Henry Bos, a behavioral scientist at the University of Amsterdam, the study investigated what researchers call “planned lesbian families” which translates as those mothers who identified as being lesbian at the time that they were artificially inseminated. Male same-sex parents were not part of this study.

Gartrell began the study in 1986, making this the longest investigation into same-sex parenting to date. Gartrell held successive meetings with the mothers of the 78 children involved, interviewing them during the insemination process or the first few months of pregnancy, and then when the children were 2, 5, 10 and 17. The children were also put through a series of psychological, behavioral and academic tests during this process. 

The results of the study have been positive for lesbian families.

From Time:

The authors found that children raised by lesbian mothers — whether the mother was partnered or single — scored very similarly to children raised by heterosexual parents on measures of development and social behavior. These findings were expected, the authors said; however, they were surprised to discover that children in lesbian homes scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.

“We simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls,” says Gartrell. “I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn’t something I anticipated.”

In addition, children in same-sex-parent families whose mothers ended up separating did as well as children in lesbian families in which the moms stayed together.

The study placed a particular emphasis on how psychologically well adjusted the children were. Throughout the course of the research, parents rated their children based on the Child Behavior Checklist, a commonly accepted scale measuring behavioral and social problems and social competence. Based on these findings, 41 percent of the children participating in the study reportedly suffered some discrimination or stigmatization because of their lesbian moms, however, while at aged 10 they did exhibit slightly higher levels of psychological stress than their heterosexual counterparts, by the time that they were 17 those feelings were gone.

“Obviously there are some factors that may include family support and changes in education about appreciation for diversity that may be helping young people to come to a better place despite these experiences,” says Gartrell.

It’s not clear exactly why children of lesbian mothers tend to do better than those in heterosexual families on certain measures. But after studying gay and lesbian families for 24 years, Gartrell has some theories. “They are very involved in their children’s lives,” she says of the lesbian parents.

“And that is a great recipe for healthy outcomes for children. Being present, having good communication, being there in their schools, finding out what is going on in their schools and various aspects of the children’s lives is very, very important.”

While this study is by no means conclusive, it is not the first to suggest such findings and at least adds to the larger body of work indicating that same-sex parents do not negatively impact a child’s welfare or development. However, due to the fact that the study was funded by several LGBT groups such as the Gay Lesbian Medical Association, those opposed to gay parenting have already concluded that the study was biased and that the data has been manipulated.

From CNN:

Wendy Wright, president of the Concerned Women for America [CWA], a group that supports biblical values, questioned the legitimacy of the findings from a study funded by gay advocacy groups.

“That proves the prejudice and bias of the study,” she said. “This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome — to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household…

“In essence, this study claims to purport that children do better when raised by lesbians,” she said.

Studies have shown that children thrive having both a mother and a father, Wright said.

“You have to be a little suspicious of any study that says children being raised by same-sex couples do better or have superior outcomes to children raised with a mother and father,” she said. “It just defies common sense and reality.”

Gartrell refutes this and maintains that funding played no part in determining the outcome of the study. “My personal investment is in doing reputable research,” Gartrell said with reference to the criticism. “This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it.”

I take exception to Wright’s clearly narrow opinion that same-sex couples being able to rear children to positive effect “defies common sense and reality.” The results of this study in no way showed that lesbian parents raised “superior” children and to suggest that is a lazy interpretation at best.

However, the study did point out that there may be some small benefits to lesbian parenting given that the majority of the children included in the study exhibited a level of psychological and behavioral adjustment that was slightly elevated when compared to their heterosexual counterparts.

Examining this closer though, these children would most likely have been introduced to themes of social diversity and tolerance earlier on in life, therein encouraging a greater understanding of the varied makeup of today’s society. Therefore, is a finding of slightly greater social and behavioral aptitude really that surprising?

Secondly, by virtue of how they were conceived, these children were long planned for and were presumably conceived at a time when the parents in question felt secure that they had optimal conditions for starting a family. Therein it seems that these findings indicate the benefits of planned pregnancy in a stable and nurturing environment, regardless of sexuality.  

That Wright would immediately resort to slinging accusations of a biased study rather than actually examining the findings seems very telling though, especially given CWA’s history of anti-gay rhetoric.

Regardless, researchers behind the study have said that they would now like to continue to expand their ongoing research. They would also like to begin to collect data on gay fatherhood, which, comparatively speaking, has been less researched. The results of this and future studies will no doubt be met with equal interest and derision, but Gartrell has emphasized to Reuters Health that, above all, her findings continue to reinforce that “the things we know that make for good parenting are love, resources and being very involved in your child’s life.”

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Marlith.


Lily M.
Lily M6 years ago

Thank you

Gabriel T.
Past Member 7 years ago

Nothing new. A family without the gender dynamics imposed by a relilgiously distorted society is much healthier for the education of a person.
Also is more expectable that one person to be more clear in mind, more capable of adpatation, more prejudice-free in personal ineractions, etc., if does not assume a slave position respect to rules or "laws of morality" which are self-imposed, or what it is the same, imposed by a "GOD" that does NOT exist.
Let our conciousness to awake. Let's be finally ourselves and not a mere consequence of the environment.

Tracy Morison
Tracy Morison7 years ago

"God created a Man and a Woman...the woman as a garment for man....if GOD had wanted homosexuallity there would have been no need for a woman..." Tahir, 2 points:
(1) according to you women only exist in the service of men - I sure don't want to worship the same God as you who creates one human being to service another (be his garment, really?!)
(2) do you know what a lesbian is?

Christine H.
Christine Heynen7 years ago

Tahir: if you had a brain you'd be dangerous. Bye, bye.

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

I'm making an assumption that gay and lesbian couples are less likely to have a child accidentally or unwanted than are heterosexual couples who often get pregnant without planning to. The children of gay and lesbian couples are, I'm assuming, always desired and usually planned. I see this as a situation were the percentage of parents would be truly concerned about how to raise their child and would engage in good parenting rather than neglecting an unwanted child as many heterosexual parents do. The result would, of course, be that the loved child is better balanced than the unloved and neglected one....

Andrea M.
Andrea M7 years ago

Thank you

Marianne Good
Past Member 7 years ago

Thank you!

Heather G.
Heather G7 years ago

God doesn't hate anyone, why do you?? Maybe you hate yourself, that could be why you're so angry.

Elsa Ferreira
Elsa Ilieva7 years ago

Sue D.: please ignore these lunatics/ fundamentalists/mysoginists/closeted homosexuals and lesbian. They are used to speak with simpletons just like themselves. When one presents them with logical arguments they get their fundamentalist-tape out and ecstacize over it... Miserable sods. I pity those who have to live and deal with them. And I sure get gayer and gayer everytime I have the misfortune of encountering these kind of beings. I love to be a lesbian. In fact, I am really really happy that I'm not heterosexual, inspite of all the prejudices and attacks I have endured. If you gave me the choice between death and heterosexuality I would not hesitate a second. Death, please!

Sue D.
Susan L7 years ago

Tahir Shuja - you are not what you say you are in your profile. Your philosophy, you SAY: 'dont do something that would harm some one or yourself'. Yet you demand 'no mercy' for homosexuals because it doesn't fit-in with your religious beliefs. You say 'Religious Tolerance' is one of your causes yet you don't have ANY yourself. You say. "i am amiable and friendly" and ALL your words are condemning and judgmental. Among 'what bugs you' is people who won't use their minds, yet you don't use yours for anything other than regurgitating hateful messages that your religious teachers have brainwashed you into believing. You act like you believe you are GOD, which I can guarantee, you are NOT. You have nothing significant to say and are on this topic for the sole purpose of spewing your own hate.