Same-Sex Parents

Same-Sex Parents

In recent years, gay marriage and gay adoption have become hot political issues. Now, psychologists are starting to get a better look at how the children of gay couples turn out.


Teens in gay households. I'm Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If a teenager has two moms instead of a mom and a dad, how will the kid get along? "Just fine," according to University of Virginia psychologist Charlotte Patterson.

She and her colleagues studied data from a broad national survey of adolescent health. They found that the children of same-sex couples performed just as well in school as their peers, and were no more or less likely to have started dating or experimenting with sex.


And also in terms of psychological adjustment, we found that they were about equally likely as other kids, kids from opposite-sex parent homes, to have symptoms of depression on the negative side or good self-esteem on the positive side.

Dr. Patterson says it was the quality of the parent-child relationship, and not the parents' gender, that affected the teenagers' development. I'm Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Making Sense of the Research

Many recent political firestorms have focused on same-sex relationships, but you might not know that sociologists and psychologists have been quietly studying the families of same-sex couples for years. The goal of this research is to objectively determine if there are differences between families with same-sex parents and families with opposite-sex parents, and if so, to find out what those differences are.

According to Patterson, many studies of young children of same-sex parents have indicated that the children develop and adjust quite well. But relatively little research has been done on teenage children.

She and her colleagues looked at data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health: a large, all-purpose study in which researchers conducted interviews with thousands of adolescents and assessed their mental health and social development. A few dozen of these teenagers had two female parents. The researchers compared these teens with teens from very similar backgrounds (age, gender, ethnicity, family income, parental education level, and so on) who had traditional, male-female parents. (There were not enough teenagers with two male parents to include in the study.)

As you heard, the gender of the parents wasn't related to the teenagers' mental health or social adjustment. Instead, they found that teens who had close relationships with their parents—regardless of the parents' genders—were more likely to be better adjusted than others.

There are many questions the study could not answer. For example, it could not look at the children of two male parents, because there weren't enough of them. It also could not determine if the teenage children of gay parents were more likely to be gay themselves. That's because the original study did not systematically collect that kind of information. Nevertheless, the study provides intriguing evidence that growing up in a non-traditional family isn't necessarily traumatic, even for people as sensitive as teenagers.

Now try and answer these questions:

  1. Why was this study conducted?
  2. How do the findings differ from anecdotal evidence (in other words, stories people tell about individual situations)?
  3. Do you think studies like these should be a part of the national debate on same-sex relationships? Why or why not?
  4. Does this study change your view of same-sex relationships? If the study instead found that teenage children of same-sex parents suffered from more mental health and social problems, would that change your view? Why or why not?

For Educators

This study was published by the Society for Research in Child Development.

The data for the study came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

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