madreslesbianas88.jpgA recent New York Times article reported on some of the data that is known about gay and lesbian parenthood and how children of same-sex parents turn out. 

The Williams Institute at UCLA finds that approximately 115,772 American same-sex couples have children.  

Summarizing the state of the field:

Until relatively recently, we didn’t know much about the children of same-sex couples. The earliest studies, dating to the 1970s, were based on small samples and could include only families who stepped forward to be counted. But about 20 years ago, the Census Bureau added a category for unwed partners, which included many gay partners, providing more demographic data. Not every gay couple that is married, or aspiring to marry, has children, but an increasing number do: approximately 1 in 5 male same-sex couples and 1 in 3 female same-sex couples are raising children, up from 1 in 20 male couples and 1 in 5 female couples in 1990.

Concerning child outcomes:

“These children do just fine,” says Abbie E. Goldberg, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Clark University, who concedes there are some who will continue to believe that gay parents are a danger to their children, in spite of a growing web of psychological and sociological evidence to the contrary.

In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.

Gender plays a key role in the differences that are known between children of heterosexual and sexual minority parents:

More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

There are data that show, for instance, that daughters of lesbian mothers are more likely to aspire to professions that are traditionally considered male, like doctors or lawyers — 52 percent in one study said that was their goal, compared with 21 percent of daughters of heterosexual mothers, who are still more likely to say they want to be nurses or teachers when they grow up. (The same study found that 95 percent of boys from both types of families choose the more masculine jobs.) Girls raised by lesbians are also more likely to engage in “roughhousing” and to play with “male-gendered-type toys” than girls raised by straight mothers. And adult children of gay parents appear more likely than the average adult to work in the fields of social justice and to have more gay friends in their social mix.

Same-sex couples, it seems, are less likely to impose certain gender-based expectations on their children, says M. V. Lee Badgett, director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of “When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage.” Studies of lesbian parents have found that they “are more feminist parents,” she says, “more open to girls playing with trucks and boys playing with dolls,” with fewer worries about conforming to perceived norms.

They are also, by definition, less likely to impose gender-based expectations on themselves. “Same-sex parents tend to be more equal in parenting,” Goldberg says, while noting that no generalization can apply to all parents of any sexual orientation. On the whole, though, lesbian mothers (there’s little data here on gay dads) tend not to divide chores and responsibilities according to gender-based roles, Goldberg says, “because you have taken gender out the equation. There’s much more fluidity than in many heterosexual relationships.”

Saddam?Some people still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, even with substantial evidence to the contrary.   AlterNet recently reported on a sociological study that provides insight into how some people rationalize such false information:

Of 49 people included in the study who believed in such a connection, only one shed the certainty when presented with prevailing evidence that it wasn’t true.  The rest came up with an array of justifications for ignoring, discounting or simply disagreeing with contrary evidence — even when it came from President Bush himself.

“I was surprised at the diversity of it, what I kind of charitably call the creativity of it,” said Steve Hoffman, one of the study’s authors and now a visiting assistant professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

The voters weren’t dupes of an elaborate misinformation campaign, the researchers concluded; rather, they were actively engaged in reasoning that the belief they already held was true.

Responses to the 9/11 commission’s finding that there was no link between Hussen and 9/11 included:

“Well, I bet they say that the commission didn’t have any proof of it, but I guess we still can have our opinions and feel that way even though they say that.”

Reasoned another: “Saddam, I can’t judge if he did what he’s being accused of, but if Bush thinks he did it, then he did it.”

Others declined to engage the information at all. Most curious to the researchers were the respondents who reasoned that Saddam must have been connected to Sept. 11, because why else would the Bush Administration have gone to war in Iraq?

Connecting 9/11 to the current health care debate, Hoffman said:

“I do think there’s something to be said about people like Sarah Palin, and even more so Chuck Grassley, supporting this idea of death panels in a national forum….[They] kind of put the idea out there, but what people then do with the idea … ” he said. “Our argument is that people aren’t just empty vessels. You don’t just sort of open up their brains and dump false information in and they regurgitate it. They’re actually active processing cognitive agents.”

Andrew Perrin, another one of the study’s authors, provided additional commentary: 

“I think we’d all like to believe that when people come across disconfirming evidence, what they tend to do is to update their opinions,” said Andrew Perrin, an associate professor at UNC and another author of the study.

That some people might not do that even in the face of accurate information, the authors suggest in their article, presents “a serious challenge to democratic theory and practice.”

“The implications for how democracy works are quite profound, there’s no question in my mind about that,” Perrin said. “What it means is that we have to think about the emotional states in which citizens find themselves that then lead them to reason and deliberate in particular ways.”

Evidence suggests people are more likely to pay attention to facts within certain emotional states and social situations. Some may never change their minds. For others, policy-makers could better identify those states, for example minimizing the fear that often clouds a person’s ability to assess facts and that has characterized the current health care debate.


In a recent article discussing the arrest of a local official in a prostitution sting, The San Gabriel Valley Tribune called upon sociologists to explain why men visit prostitutes:

Some men are excited by the illicit risky behavior of prostitution; others like the consumer-oriented and simple transaction of meeting sexual needs through purchase; others say they have difficulties getting involved in traditional relationships; and still others are looking for a different kind of sex than they can normally find, according to a study conducted by sociologist Martin Monto for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Janet Lever, a sociologist at California State-LA, weighed in an alternative opinion:

“It’s not about the sex act. It’s really about creating variety. They usually do the same acts as they do with their wife or partner. Secondarily it’s about getting more sex,” Lever said.  Two-thirds of men wish they were getting more sex with their partner, while one-third of women do, Lever said. And prostitution provides an outlet for more sex that many men perceive as safer and less complicated than having an affair.

Commenting on high profile busts such as those of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, Lever added:

“It certainly seems like these guys show a great deal of arrogance… and they have a lot more at stake than the average joe schmoe, which shows they are either delusional that they won’t get caught or they are truly driven for this act.   Joe schmoe does it too, and he may be sacrificing his marriage, but not his career.”

The author adds some demographics to the story:  The 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey (led by sociologists Edward Laumann and John Gagnon) found that 16 % of men report ever visiting a prostitute, with .6 % of men visiting a prostitute each year.

Halloween PumpkinsUSA Weekend recently highlighted the growing fascination that Americans have with our favorite blood-sucking friends: vampires.   This phenomenon is underscored by the recent success of the Twilight series, HBO’s second-most watched series ever True Blood, and the popularity of the new CW network show The Vampire Diaries.

Karen Sternheimer, sociologist at the University of Southern California, provides commentary: 

“One reason for the intense teenage interest in newer stories, especially Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, is the sense that the vampires are outsiders among us. In True Blood, they’re simply trying to fit into society. Often, they’re also seen as more vulnerable and less predatory.  Vampires look like us, but they’re different, and those are experiences that a lot of young people can relate to, especially dealing with not just the physical aspects of relationships when you’re young but also the emotional aspects, the danger vs. the draw of that so-called ‘forbidden love’ that really resonates with a lot of young women.”

Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels (upon which True Blood is based), provides additional commentary: 

“Vampires never have to go on Social Security, they never have to have a hip replacement, they’re never going to need bifocals  They just won’t have the problems of aging that humans face, and that’s very appealing, especially perhaps to Americans.”

On that note, pay attention to how many little vampires you see roaming the streets tomorrow night.