An analysis of multiple studies of 500 households shows that the effects on children with same-sex parents do not affect their self-esteem, gender identity, or emotional health, a Boston researcher reported. In fact, there are many articles supporting same-sex marriage and raising children.
“Pediatricians need to recognize that there are variations in families and learn what kind of advice to give them to optimize the child’s development,” said Ellen Perrin, MD, professor of paediatrics at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
The researcher and colleagues looked at data from 15 studies evaluating possible stigma, teasing, social isolation, adjustment, sexual orientation, and strengths. The findings were presented here at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.
“The vast consensus of the studies is that children of same-sex parents do as well as children whose parents are heterosexual in every way,” Dr. Perrin said. “In some ways, children of same-sex parents actually may have advantages over other family structures.”
It has been estimated that one to six million children are being reared by committed lesbian or gay couples in this country. Some children were born to a heterosexual couple and later raised by a same-sex couple; others were placed in foster homes, were adopted, or conceived through a surrogate mother through artificial insemination.
Same-sex parenting research has been criticized for being biased, but Dr. Perrin said the research team was extremely careful to select only solid, evidence-based research for review.
Based on nine studies from 1981 to 1994 of 260 children, aged three to 11 years, reared by either heterosexual mothers or lesbian mothers after divorce, the researchers found there was no difference in the intelligence of the children, type or prevalence of psychiatric disorders, self-esteem, well-being, peer relationships, or parental stress. “The children all had a similar emotional experience with divorce,” she said.
What they did find was that after divorce children being reared by lesbian mothers had more contact with fathers than children reared by divorced heterosexual mothers, Dr. Perrin said. “There are interesting suggestions that these children are more tolerant of differences.”
A separate longitudinal study of 37 children of 27 divorced lesbian mothers and an equal number of children with divorced heterosexual mothers found no differences in behaviour, adjustment, gender identity, and peer relationships.
“What is exciting about this study was that they followed the children 11 years later when they became adults,” Dr. Perrin said. “But they still found no difference in adjustment, self-esteem, psychiatric or psychological problems, family relationships, or in identifying sexual orientation.”
Four other large studies of more than 100 couples that evaluated children either born or adopted into families found that same-sex parents were more likely to have contact with extended family for social support as well as a more equal division of labour in the home. However, children of same-sex relationships did experience some stigmatization.
“The researchers found no differences in the parents other than that same-sex couples raising children share household and childcare tasks more equitably,” said Dr. Perrin. “The children of lesbian couples also appeared to be less aggressive, more nurturing to peers, more tolerant of diversity, and more androgynous,” playing with toys for both boys and girls.
Further analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health used randomly selected representative data from 44 adolescents aged 12 to 18 years. The study compared children living with two women in a “marriage-like” relationship with teenagers living with two heterosexual parents.
The study showed that adolescents were similar in intrapersonal adjustments such as self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. They also were similar in school success, family relationships, and neighbourhood integration, Dr. Perrin said.
“What is striking is that there are very consistent findings in these studies,” she concluded. “But a further study conducted in a long-term systematic manner in community samples needs to be conducted.”
Dr. Perrin pointed out that “as pediatricians, we have a lot of different kinds of roles. We need to be extremely careful about confidentiality with these families and assure them that their family constellation won’t be broadcast. This will give us a better chance of learning more about the family and providing needed advice and discussing some of the issues.”
“This is valuable information,” Carol Berkowitz, MD, told Medscape. She is the immediate past president of the AAP and professor and executive vice chair in the Department of Pediatrics at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California. “This subject evokes a lot of emotions that have influenced some studies. Some same-sex couples raising children studies in the past were weighted based on nothing more than their own views.”
The value of this presentation is these are all evidence-based studies, Dr. Berkowitz said, adding this information will help paediatricians in their practices and for setting policy.
AAP 2005 National Conference and Exhibition: Concurrent Seminar F340. Presented Oct. 10, 2005.
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD