Same-Sex Parenting and Mental Health
The heated national debate over same-sex marriage has come a long way towards resolution with the recent ruling of US Supreme Court, however concern about the emotional well-being of children raised in those relationships is still very much present in national dialogues.
What Does the Research Tell Us?
Scientific research seems to indicate that there is little basis for the concern surrounding the overall outcomes for children raised in same sex households.
After surveying more than 79 studies, researchers from Columbia Law School reported that 75 of them showed that children of same sex couples fare no worse than their peers. The four remaining studies that did find harmful outcomes for these children only studied children whose heterosexual parents had broken up after one parent had came out as gay. In these studies, family break up was a significant and confounding factor.
In 2014 Paul Sullins, a sociology professor at Catholic University, published a report revealing that children raised by same-sex parents were nearly twice as likely to have emotional problems when compared to those raised by heterosexual parents. Again, the problem with this and similar studies is that they do not compensate for an unbalanced focus on children who experience family breakup or foster care. Subsequent comparison to children from stable households with heterosexual parents, some say, leads to distorted results.
In fact, a number of studies reveal that children of same-sex couples may be doing better than children in the general population when it comes physical health and overall well-being.
Social Cohesion and Stigma Play Important Roles
A University of Melbourne study published in the journal BMC Public Health surveyed more than 300 same-sex parents with nearly 500 children. When compared with children raised by heterosexual parents, children from same-sex families had higher scores in general behavior, general health and family cohesion. This study concluded that perceived stigma, not the same sex home, may have a negative effect on emotional symptoms.
In accounting for the results, researchers suggest that the greater social cohesion among same-sex families may come from a more equal distribution of responsibilities. “It is liberating for parents to take on roles that suit their skills rather than defaulting to gender stereotypes, where mom is the primary caregiver and dad the primary breadwinner,” said lead researcher Simon Crouch.
The University of Melbourne study highlights one particular concern facing same-sex families: stigma. That study revealed that about 66% of children with same-sex parents encountered some form of stigma as a result of their parents’ sexual orientation. Issues like bullying and interpersonal conflict seemed to have a significant impact on social and emotional well-being.
The Verdict? Children in Same Sex Homes Do Just as Well
On the whole, the scientific findings trend toward a positive outlook on same sex parenting. In a review of research prepared for the American Sociological Association, researchers note that, "numerous credible and methodologically sound social science studies reveal that children raised in same-sex parent families fare just as well as children raised in different-sex parent families across a wide spectrum of child well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse."
Overall, a growing body of research documents that children of same-sex parents show few differences in achievement, mental health, and social functioning when compared to kids raised in heterosexual families, and actually may have some advantages. Our next challenge as a society is to eliminate stigma that children in same sex families may experience, as it is the stigma that may have the most harmful effect on children. If as a society we foster creating more open-minded, diversity friendly, and tolerant communities, children in all types of families will benefit.