New Research Confirms the Benefits of Married Heterosexual Parents

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Another fascinating piece of research is being reported by the Witherspoon Institute,

There is a new and significant piece of evidence in the social science debate about gay parenting and the unique contributions that mothers and fathers make to their children’s flourishing. A study published last week in the journalReview of the Economics of the Household—analyzing data from a very large, population-based sample—reveals that the children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to have graduated from high school as the children of married, opposite-sex couples. And gender matters, too: girls are more apt to struggle than boys, with daughters of gay parents displaying dramatically low graduation rates.

Of course, there’s studies … and then there’s studies. Many of the pieces of work so praised in the press were self-selecting samples. This study, however, is quite different.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.

While in the US Census same-sex households have to be guessed at based on the gender and number of self-reported heads-of-household, young adults in the Canadian census were asked, “Are you the child of a male or female same-sex married or common law couple?” While study author and economist Douglas Allen noted that very many children in Canada who live with a gay or lesbian parent are actually living with a single mother—a finding consonant with that detected in the 2012 New Family Structures Study—he was able to isolate and analyze hundreds of children living with a gay or lesbian couple(either married or in a “common law” relationship akin to cohabitation).

So the study is able to compare—side by side—the young-adult children of same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, as well as children growing up in single-parent homes and other types of households.

So now here’s a really good study. It’s not self-selecting (with all the inherent bias that brings), it is able to clearly identify different types of “parenting” arrangements and it can accurately measure the life outcomes of the children raised in those different situations. Further, it comes from a population where same-sex relationships have long had legal recognition and protection – they are well-established. But the results won’t please the gay lobby:

Three key findings stood out to Allen:

children of married opposite-sex families have a high graduation rate compared to the others; children of lesbian families have a very low graduation rate compared to the others; and the other four types [common law, gay, single mother, single father] are similar to each other and lie in between the married/lesbian extremes.

Employing regression models and series of control variables, Allen concludes that the substandard performance cannot be attributed to lower school attendance or the more modest education of gay or lesbian parents. Indeed, same-sex parents were characterized by higher levels of education, and their children were more likely to be enrolled in school than even those of married, opposite-sex couples. And yet their children are notably more likely to lag in finishing their own schooling.

Lots more information there. The conclusion is very helpful in limiting our argument but also showing what can be demonstrated.

Every study has its limitations, and this one does too. It is unable to track the household history of children. Nor is it able to establish the circumstances of the birth of the children whose education is evaluated—that is, were they the product of a heterosexual union, adopted, or born via surrogate or assisted reproductive technology? Finally, the census did not distinguish between married and common law gay and lesbian couples. But couples they are.

Indeed, its limitations are modest in comparison to its remarkable and unique strengths—a rigorous and thorough analysis of a massive, nationally-representative dataset from a country whose government has long affirmed same-sex couples and parenting. It is as close to an ideal test as we’ve seen yet.

The study’s publication continues the emergence of new, population-based research in this domain, much of which has undermined scholarly and popular claims about equivalence between same-sex and opposite-sex households echoed by activists and reflected in recent legal proceedings about same-sex marriage.

This is going to be a helpful study to have in the back pocket, particularly because of the extensive and unbiased nature of the sample and the clear information gathered.

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  1. Glenn

    Thanks David. Helpful analysis.

  2. “flourishing”, “graduated from high school”, “girls dramatically low graduation rates” – I don’t agree with David that “This is going to be a helpful study to have in the back pocket” – I think it is an absolutely dreadful way for any Christian to measure the ‘success’ of an individual. Is this what Christians care about these days? Graduating and high grades? This is so far from the success that my God reveals in His Word and so far from the way my Jesus talks about how we might value the worth of a person. If I was to agree with this research I’d be saying that the majority of children born in the developing world are better off not being born. I think that’s what the research is getting at. That if things happened ‘God’s way’ then these children who do not flourish would not exist. The children of same sex couples exist, and we can only hope that Christians can stop being so dumb and learn how to reach out and share the love of Jesus with them – surely THAT is the one and only way that they will FLOURISH!

    1. David Ould

      Nat, I think you’re over-egging the pudding here. Yes, I agree with you that it’s not a Biblical measure of ultimate success but I think it’s hard to deny that it is a useful way of grading how people are going.

      As for your comments on the developing world, I’m afraid I don’t see the logic. If anything it’s an argument for us to drastically improve their status, not that they should not be born.

      No-one is arguing they, nor children in these relationships, should not exist – that’s just a non sequiter.

      Reaching out in love means wanting the best for people, that’s all. And the data shows quite clearly that being raised by same-sex parents has deleterious effects.

  3. And just a question – since Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalise gay marriage on July 20, 2005, how is it possible to do a study of the graduating children of married same sex couples. If the children were born in 2005 they’d only be 8 years old. The more brain space I give to this article, the more it defines the kind of thing that Christians should just really steer very clear of.

    1. David Ould

      Nat, this is just another flaw in logic. No-one is suggesting that because gay marriage was legalised in 2005 that no same-sex couples prior to that date had children living in their homes. I’m afraid you begin to look like you’re reaching to find reasons to reject this study.

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