Part 2: More Info about the Study on Adult Children of Parents who have Same-Sex Relationships

Part 2 in a series on the New Family Structures Study I conducted.

Just a few links, as well as the answer to some common criticisms of the study…

The study itself is free and publicly available, beginning today, at this site, together with another study on the matter by Loren Marks (LSU professor), and three comments on the studies, including one by Paul Amato, Penn State sociologist and current president of the National Council on Family Relations.

My short summary piece on the study is up at Slate.com, here, as is William Saletan’s take.

In response to a common criticism about the fact that there are few respondents who reported growing up in stably-coupled lesbian families, I had this to say:

“One of the key methodological criticisms circulating is that–basically–in a population-based sample, I haven’t really evaluated how the adult children of stably-intact coupled self-identified lesbians have fared. Right? Right. And I’m telling you that it cannot be feasibly accomplished. It is a methodological (practical) impossibility at present, for reasons I describe: they really didn’t exist in numbers that could be amply obtained *randomly*. It may well be a flaw–a limitation, I think–but it is unavoidable. We maxxed Knowledge Networks’ ability, and no firm is positioned to do better. It would have cost untold millions of dollars, and still may not generate the number of cases needed for statistical analyses. If randomness wasn’t the key priority, then we could’ve done it. And we’d have had a nonrandom sample that was no better than anything before it. So, while critics are taking potshots, they should remember that there’s a (low) ceiling to what’s possible here. My team of consultants elected to go with the screener questions (including the one about same-sex relationships) that we did, anticipating–accurately, too–that there would be no way of generating ample sample size if we narrowed the criteria (for who counts as a lesbian parent) to the sort that critics are calling for. We figured that, with the household roster/calendar offering the opportunity to identify who you lived with, we’d comfortably get enough cases wherein the respondent reported living with mom and her partner for many consecutive years. But few did.”

Q & A with Mark Regnerus about the background of his new study

Part 1 in a series on the New Family Structures Study I conducted.

Figured it was worth answering some basic background questions about the new study, me, etc., given all the hubbub it’s receiving.

Q: Why did you undertake the study about adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships?

A: Two reasons. First, because I thought I could pull together a diverse group of people to figure out how best to test the “no differences” hypothesis. And second, because it’s an interesting research question, and I don’t mind navigating controversy a bit. I’m at a point in my career where I’m less concerned about making my professional peers happy and more about studying interesting things. In particular, the “no differences” hypothesis seemed quirky to me. I wondered if it was really true.

Q: You realize the Witherspoon Institute is a pretty conservative organization, politically.

A: Yes. And the Ford Foundation is a pretty liberal one. Every academic study is paid for by someone. I’ve seen excellent studies funded by all sorts of interest groups. I don’t waste too much time worrying about the sources of funding, so long as the research questions are compelling and the data collection methods solid. Funding is hard to get these days. Witherspoon had nothing to do with the study design, or with the data analyses, or interpretations, or the publication of the study. To me, I treated it the same as if the funding came from NICHD or NSF.

Q: So why didn’t you go to NICHD or NSF for funding?

A: For two reasons. First, because in informal conversation about it, Witherspoon expressed openness to funding it. I was between book projects and it sounded like
an interesting thing to pursue. I informed Witherspoon that if I were to run the study, I would report the results, whatever they may be. And honestly my bet was that it would be a far more mixed set of results, with many null findings. Second, I actually don’t think a study like this would fly at NICHD or NSF. In the wider social science community, the matter of “no differences” is considered either settled or too politicized. Of course, why it would be considered settled is beyond me. What issues get settled in a decade?

Q: Have other studies used the same methodological approach you did?

A: Most have not, as I elaborate in the literature review section of the study. That’s what’s unique about this study. Only Michael Rosenfeld’s 2010 article in Demography utilized a large population-based sample to compare one outcome among same-sex and other types of households. Others have worked with existing population-based samples, but rather small ones. But apart from Rosenfeld’s study, this is the largest nationally-representative sample of same-sex households, and I looked at 40 different outcomes, not just one or two.

Q: Why did you use Knowledge Networks as the firm to carry out the data collection?

A: I investigated several firms’ ability to collect random data from small populations, and their reputation and track record in academic research kept popping up. The fact that they actively maintain a large random panel of respondents was a big plus. Other family scholars have used them. Major data collection projects—funded by federal agencies, private entities, and even condom manufacturers—have used them. They’re very good.

Q: I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “correlation does not equal causation.” Is that the case here?

A: For sure. This is an overview piece that explores statistical associations, and explores what happens when I control for a variety of other variables. But an assessment of causation is not possible here. I explored a likely suspect—household instability—but apart from longitudinal data, I’d be in a tough spot to claim causation.

Q: So besides the results, what makes this study any different from previous ones?

A: In a nutshell, it’s primarily the sampling strategy, the sample size, and method variance: we employed a random, population-based sample, and a large one at that, so people can generalize to the broader population of young adults in America. And we talked to independent adults, not to parents or kids still in the home. Nobody did that before.

Q: Is there a political take-home message in the study?

A: No. As I stated in the article, “this study cannot answer political questions about same-sex relationships…”

Q: Come on. You can’t surmise what people will make of this study politically?

A: You know, I don’t think it easily lends itself to one particular answer to any of the politicized questions that are circulating about gay marriage, or parental rights, etc. What it comprises is significant, new, high-quality information on the long reach of household structure in the lives of American young people. And more information is always a plus, I would think.

Q: Some might say this study reveals evidence that gay and lesbian parents would benefit from access to the relative security of marriage. What are your thoughts on that?

A: It’s possible. How gay marriages would function for children is an empirical question, but it’s only answerable in the future, after ample numbers of cases have accrued, after considerable time has expired, and when the respondents are old enough to speak and reflect about it, as the respondents in my study have.

Q: What did you think of President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage?

A: I’m a researcher. It doesn’t alter how I approach the academic study of sexual behavior or family formation.

Q: From a Google search of your previous work, it appears that you’ve talked with a variety of religious groups. Are you personally religious, and if so doesn’t that compromise this study?

A: I’m Catholic, for the record, and politically haven’t yet voted for a Republican presidential candidate. Religious organizations have historically been interested in the sorts of subject matter I’ve studied. But there’s no “Christian” approach to sampling or “Catholic” way of crunching numbers. Any trained methodologist, data manager, and statistician can locate the same patterns I reported. Others may ask different questions, or follow different decision rules on measures. But that’s normal science.

Q: So are gay parents worse than traditional parents?

A: The study is not about parenting per se. There are no doubt excellent gay parents and terrible straight parents. The study is, among other things, about outcome differences between young adults raised in households in which a parent had a same-sex relationship and those raised by their own parents in intact families. It’s not about sexual orientation, at least not overtly. There are many significant differences, but the study does not ascribe any causes for the differences. This can only be assessed with additional research. What is evident in the data, however, is above-average instability among households in which mom or dad had a same-sex relationship. For example, among the former only two respondents total said they lived with their mother and her partner nonstop from birth to age 18. Two more said they did so for 15 years, and two more for 13 years. To be sure, these 10 fared better on more outcomes than did their less-stable peers. They’re just uncommon, and too small a group to detect statistically-significant differences, for sure. Future studies would ideally include more children from “planned” gay or lesbian families, but their relative scarcity in the NFSS data suggests that their appearance in even much larger probability samples may remain infrequent for the foreseeable future.

Q: Will you conduct more research on this subject?

A: There will not be additional data collection efforts with the NFSS. While I am working on several studies using the data, I intend to return to the study of heterosexual behavior soon.

Liking the Quotes more than the Books

I read, for the first time, Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to my family the other day. Seemed like a better idea than yet another iteration of “International House Hunters” on the television. I’ve been a fan of Flannery O’Connor for a few years, but upon reflection my interest in her may be less literary than biographical. I think she lived an interesting, and unusual, life.

A year or two ago my former graduate school advisor sent around some of his favorite O’Connor quotes, many of which are fantastic, provocative, humorous, etc. (a few of which I repeat below).

But it struck me the other day as I was reading aloud what turned out to be a rather strange, dramatic, and grim story that I may in fact like Flannery for her numerous, witty retorts rather than for the content of her actual writing. As I grimly concluded “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” I found myself wanting to defend what I just read.

And I think it’s not just her. I find plenty of impressive quotations among authors whom I otherwise can’t seem to bear reading in their entirety. From The Confessions of Augustine to Plato’s Republic—two books I recently attempted, briefly, to read—I think I have “Classics envy.” I want to like that which I cannot seem to. There are some fine ones in Mere Christianity, but I found the book largely flat. Finally after 40 years, I’m actually making my way slowly through the Lord of the Rings, which—while not page-turners—can retain the attention span.

For an academic like me, this is all somewhat embarrassing to admit, not being attracted to the Classics and much great literature and all that. I want my kids to read them, and they indeed are reading more of them than I did at their age (or at any age, for that matter).

It’s not that I’m drawn to the NYT bestseller list, or to crime dramas. I haven’t read about hornets’ nests or wizardry, either. What do I read? Too much news, that’s for
sure. Classics envy, I tell ya.

So to conclude this dull blog day—next Monday will be more interesting, I promise—here are five nice Flannery quotes, though I can’t vouch for the totality of their originating sources:

“I’m blessed with Total Non-Retention, which means I have not been harmed by a sorry education.”

“On the subject of the feminist business, I just never think…of qualities which are specifically feminine or masculine. I suppose I divide people into two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome without regard to sex. Yes and there are the Medium Irksome and the Rare Irksome.”

“Don’t let People and their Opinions affect you so much. I always count on a big percentage of Those Who Will Have None of It and do not let myself be concerned about remarks within that circle.”

“One of the effects of modern liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend upon feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention…. I find it reasonable to believe [orthodox Christianity], even
though these beliefs are beyond reason.”

“My cousin’s husband who also teaches at Auburn came into the Church last week. He had been going to Mass with them but never showed any interest. We asked how he got interested and his answer was that the sermons were so horrible, he knew there must be something else there to make the people come.”

Sexual Expectations and Realities in Marriage

Who out there thinks they’re having too much sex?

The answer appears to be: nearly no one (under age 40, that is). Analyses involving new nationally-representative data on 18-39-year-olds, results from which I’ve highlighted in previous blog posts, suggests that very few young adults in America think they themselves are oversexed. Respondents were asked, “Are you content with the amount of sex you are having?” To which 50 percent replied “yes,” 43 percent said, “no, I’d prefer more,” and only 3 percent said, “no, I’d prefer less.”

An additional 4 percent refused to answer the question, which admittedly might have struck some as being irrelevant to them or presumptive of their own sexual activity. (That happens sometimes in survey research, and in that case it makes sense to pass on the question.) Indeed, plenty of people in the dataset aren’t even in relationships; the question could strike them as odd, or not. So what about the ones that are in relationships? And even more specifically, what about the ones that are married?

Well, it turns out—of course—marriage doesn’t completely take care of the sex drive. As if I expected it to. (I’m trying not to make this blog post personal.) It turns out that 53 percent of married young Americans are quite content with their frequency of sex, while 43 percent wish for more and only 2.1 percent wish for less.

Given the historically-strong gender connection with sex drive, what do the numbers look like when we split them by male and female? Well, your grandmother probably could’ve predicted this one. About 61 percent of married women are content with the extent of bedroom activity they’re experiencing, compared with 44 percent of married men. It should be noted that only 7/10th of one percent of married men are complaining about too much sex. It’s just an uncommon gripe. More women than men, but only 3.3 percent total, voice such a concern. It turns out that 54 percent of married young men would appreciate more sex, but so would 34 percent of married young women.  Those are numbers worth noting. To be sure, life and busy-ness can get in the way—and marital problems will often either concern sex or become intertwined with it. But it’s notable that many married (18-39-year-old) men and women wish to be intimate with their spouse more often than they are. I guess that’s good, and certainly better than the other way around.

So far I’ve said nothing about this group’s reported actual sexual frequency, which varies widely:

– 19 percent reported no sex in the past two weeks

– 16 percent reported once in the past two weeks

– 16 percent said twice

– 13 percent said three times

– 10 percent said four

– 15 percent said 5-6

– 6 percent said 7-10 times

– 4 percent of married young adults reported 11 or more times in the past two weeks.

[Cue the irritation of some, and the blessed “Oh, I’m normal” response of others.]

To be sure, there’s a nearly linear association between the two variables:

– 91 percent of the (11+ timers) said “yes” when asked if they were content with the amount of sex they’re having. (The nerve of those other nine percent…!)

That number dips to 86 percent (among 7-10 timers), then 66 percent, 65 percent, 61, 40, 41, and down to 37 percent among those married young Americans who reported no sex in the past two weeks. The most notable dip in contentment here–from a majority that’s content to a minority that is–appears between those who say “3 times” and those who say twice (in two weeks).

The same numbers among men only: 85 percent of the male 11+ timers said “yes,” they’re content. The same (85 percent) among male 7-10 timers, then down to 66 percent, 60 percent, 44 percent, 30 percent, 36 percent, and only 21 percent of married men who’ve not had sex in the past week say they are content with the amount of sex they’ve been having. The most notable decline here is from “4 times” to “3 times” (in two weeks).  This reminds me of the Woody Allen film in which his character responds to a therapist’s question about his sex life, saying, “We almost never have sex, like, only two or three times a week.” Diane Keaton, his partner, responds independently to the same question, “We’re always having sex, like, two or three times a week!” (In fact, 54 percent of married women who said “zero times” to the frequency question also said that “yes” they were content with how often they have sex.) In general, young women appear far more content with their married sex lives than the men. Not a shock, I know.

I’m pressed for time—given this is a holiday weekend—so I won’t add more commentary to these numbers. There are of course other variables to consider–like how long you’ve been married–and other predictors of sexual contentedness that a short blog post cannot accommodate, but that invariably readers will wonder about. Wonder away.

 

On Memorial Day, here’s to those who have served, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We are grateful.


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