Earlier this month, Slate published an article by Sociologist Mark Regenerus about the effects of same sex parenting on children. As part of the New Family Structures Study, Regenerus and his colleagues screened over 15,000 Americans (ages 18-39) and asked them if their biological mother or father ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex. When comparing children who answered “yes” to children from heterosexual married families, they found children from heterosexual married families fared better in economic, educational, social, and psychological outcomes.
This study has prompted many comments and several other articles. For example, in another article in Slate, William Saletan says that the findings shouldn’t be surprising, as Regenerus’s study is not a study of gay parents who decided to have kids. Rather, it’s a study of people who engaged in same sex relationships (and often broke up their families) several decades ago.
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.
His definition of children raised by lesbian mothers and gay fathers is incredibly broad — anyone whose biological or adopted mother or father had a same-sex relationship that the respondent knew about by age 18. Most of these respondents did not even live with their parent’s same-sex partner; in fact, many did not even live with their gay or lesbian parent at all! Of the 175 adult children Regnerus claims were raised by “lesbian mothers,” only 40 actually lived with their mother and her same-sex partner for at least three years.
Umberson also notes that in order to be considered a child of a heterosexual married family, respondents had to have parents who were continually married from the time of their birth to the time of the survey. With the wide net cast for same sex relationships, the study likely captured families that had far more stress than average families of that generation, contrasted with very stable heterosexual married families.
What does this tell us? According to both Saletan and Umberson, it’s a reminder that stress and instability harm children in any family context.