Expert Commentary

Same-sex marriage and children’s well-being: Research roundup

2014 review of scholarly research papers and studies on psychosocial and educational outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents.

A leading issue in the same-sex marriage debate is the welfare of children raised by same-sex parents. How might a child’s general well-being be affected by these primary caregivers versus having a more traditional family?

The question was central to the defense strategy of supporters of Michigan’s ban on gay marriage, which was challenged by a lawsuit and went to trial in March 2014. A federal judge overturned the state’s ban, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the right of Michigan and three other states to ban same-sex marriage. The issue was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015, when it ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage. Before the ruling, 36 states and the District of Columbia authorized gay marriage, and the Court’s decision compels all 50 states to do so.

The following are scholarly research papers and studies on psychosocial and educational outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents. For an overall exploration of the challenges and potential lines of criticism in this field, see “Gay & Lesbian Parenting,” a review of the research literature by the American Psychological Association.


“Child Well-Being in Same-Sex Parent Families: Review of Research Prepared for American Sociological Association Amicus Brief”
Manning, Wendy D.; Fettro, Marshal Neal; Lamidi, Esther. Population Research and Policy Review, August 2014, Vol. 33, Issue 4, 485-502. doi: 10.1007/s11113-014-9329-6.

Abstract: “Recent legal cases before the Supreme Court of the United States were challenging federal definitions of marriage created by the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s voter approved Proposition 8 which limited marriage to different-sex couples only. Social science literature regarding child well-being was being used within these cases, and the American Sociological Association sought to provide a concise evaluation of the literature through an amicus curiae brief. The authors were tasked in the assistance of this legal brief by reviewing literature regarding the well-being of children raised within same-sex parent families. This article includes our assessment of the literature, focusing on those studies, reviews and books published within the past decade. We conclude that there is a clear consensus in the social science literature indicating that American children living within same-sex parent households fare just as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households over a wide array of well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse. Our assessment of the literature is based on credible and methodologically sound studies that compare well-being outcomes of children residing within same-sex and different-sex parent families. Differences that exist in child well-being are largely due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability.”


“Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents Are Gay or Lesbian”
2013 study from Tufts University, Boston Medical Center and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health published in Pediatrics.

Abstract: “Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research reveal that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma. Many studies have demonstrated that children’s well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents’ sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents. Lack of opportunity for same-gender couples to marry adds to families’ stress, which affects the health and welfare of all household members.”


“U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolescents”
2010 study from the University of California-San Francisco, the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Amsterdam published in Pediatrics.

Findings: “The 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts… Within the lesbian family sample, no Child Behavior Checklist differences were found among adolescent offspring who were conceived by known, as-yet-unknown, and permanently unknown donors or between offspring whose mothers were still together and offspring whose mothers had separated… Adolescents who have been reared in lesbian-mother families since birth demonstrate healthy psychological adjustment.”


“Nontraditional Families and Childhood Progress Through School”
2010 research by Stanford University published in Demography.

Findings: “Children of same-sex couples are as likely to make normal progress through school as the children of most other family structures… the advantage of heterosexual married couples is mostly due to their higher socioeconomic status. Children of all family types (including children of same-sex couples) are far more likely to make normal progress through school than are children living in group quarters (such as orphanages and shelters).”


“Children’s Gender Identity in Lesbian and Heterosexual Two-Parent Families”
2009 research from the University of Amsterdam and New York State Psychiatric Institute published in Sex Roles.

Findings: “Children in lesbian families felt less parental pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, were less likely to experience their own gender as superior and were more likely to be uncertain about future heterosexual romantic involvement. No differences were found on psychosocial adjustment. Gender typicality, gender contentedness and anticipated future heterosexual romantic involvement were significant predictors of psychosocial adjustment in both family types.”


“Parent-Child Interaction Styles Between Gay and Lesbian Parents and Their Adopted Children”
2007 study from Florida State University published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies.

Findings: “Gay and lesbian adoptive parents in this sample fell into the desirable range of the parenting scale and their children have strength levels equal to or exceeding the scale norms. Finally, various aspects of parenting style significantly predicted the adoptive parents’ view of their child’s level of care difficulty which subsequently predicted the type and level of strengths assessed within their adopted child.”


“Meta-Analysis of Developmental Outcomes for Children of Same-Sex and Heterosexual Parents”
2008 metastudy from Michigan State University published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies.

Findings: “Analyses revealed statistically significant effect size differences between groups for one of the six outcomes: parent-child relationship. Results confirm previous studies in this current body of literature, suggesting that children raised by same-sex parents fare equally well to children raised by heterosexual parents.”


“Pychosocial Adjustment Among Children Conceived Via Donor Insemination by Lesbian and Heterosexual Mothers”
1998 research from the University of Virgina published in Child Development.

Findings: “Children [developed] in normal fashion, and that their adjustment was unrelated to structural variables such as parental sexual orientation or the number of parents in the household. These results held true for teacher reports as well as for parent reports. Variables associated with family interactions and processes were, however, significantly related to indices of children’s adjustment. Parents who were experiencing higher levels of parenting stress, higher levels of interparental conflict, and lower levels of love for each other had children who exhibited more behavior problems.”


Keywords: gender, research roundup, gay issues, children, parenting, LGBT, gay issues

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