Surprise! Same-sex couples produce happier kids, media say

Ordinarily, quality journalism benefits from solid information, concrete evidence and a healthy dose of skepticism.

But certainly, major news organizations can be forgiven when they err on the side of a higher ideal, right?

In this week’s example, that higher ideal would be acceptance of same-sex parents.

At this point in history, producing a baby apparently — and regrettably, it seems — still requires a father and a mother. But on the bright side, a “major study” has come up with this encouraging news:

Children of same-sex couples are happier and healthier than peers, research shows

That was the headline in the Washington Post. 

The breathless top of the Post story:

Children of same-sex couples fare better when it comes to physical health and social well-being than children in the general population, according to researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

“It’s often suggested that children with same-sex parents have poorer outcomes because they’re missing a parent of a particular sex. But research my colleagues and I published in the journal BMC Public Health shows this isn’t the case,” lead researcher Simon Crouch wrote on the Conversation.

Crouch and his team surveyed 315 same-sex parents with a total of 500 children across Australia. About 80 percent of the kids had female parents and about 18 percent had male parents, the study states.

Children from same-sex families scored about 6 percent higher on general health and family cohesion, even when controlling for socio-demographic factors such as parents’ education and household income, Crouch wrote. However, on most health measures, including emotional behavior and physical functioning, there was no difference compared with children from the general population.

Crouch suggested the greater social cohesion among same-sex families comes from an equal distribution of work. He said same-sex couples are likely to share responsibilities more equally than heterosexual ones.

“It is liberating for parents to take on roles that suit their skills rather than defaulting to gender stereotypes, where mum is the primary care giver and dad the primary breadwinner,” he said.

The Boston Globe chose a similar headline, but one without any clunky attribution to a study or research (kudos, Globe!):

Children of Same-Sex Couples are Healthier Than Their Peers

And from the New York Post:

Study shows children of same-sex couples are happier

But before we all get too excited about this research, the Post did include a quick, obligatory note of caution:

But Benjamin Siegel, professor of pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine, said there are limits with such research. He told BU Today last year that none of the studies has been a randomized, controlled trial and that all studies on same-sex parenting are small since there aren’t as many same-sex parents.

There are limits, huh? Well, not if you read the Globe story, which manages to avoid such irritating naysaying. But yeah, the Post, too, included a little bit of critical commentary. To the New York paper’s credit, though, it did so in a way that let readers know exactly how wrong the skeptics are:

The results, while in line with previous surveys, still set off a firestorm.

“I wasn’t surprised that these parents who volunteered for the study all thought their children were doing well,” Family Voice Australia research officer Rosyln Phillips told ABC Radio Australia. “You’ve got to look beyond studies like these to what happens when the child reaches adulthood, and that’s the only time with independent assessment you can really say what’s gone on with the parenting.”

Conservatives, meanwhile, put out blog posts such as this one that dared to question the study:

The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families has been getting copious positive press coverage. Unfortunately, it has some serious methodological weaknesses — it studies only the lives and experiences of the LGBT elite.

Bah, humbug, Mr. Critic.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Darrell Turner

    The Boston Globe headline cannot be defended journalistically. It is a basic principle of headline writing that any report of any study on any subject needs attribution in the headline, even if it is only the word “Study.”

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      To be fair, the Boston Globe story cannot be defended journalistically, either. :-)

      • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

        Living in the Boston Globe circulation area I see (but don’t purchase) the Globe each day. Their coverage of things Gay is suffocating at times—and is why many local people don’t buy it.
        Today’s Globe had its fairly regular front page pro-Gay piece which included attacks on those defending traditional Christian morality.

  • praxagora

    “At this point in history, producing a baby apparently — and regrettably, it seems — still requires a father and a mother.”

    Never change, GetReligion

    • http://www.thebigtruth.com/ Tragic Christian

      Obviously, the reason that male/male and female/female reproduction doesn’t happen is because Nature is full of H8. We must find a willing member of the judiciary to end it.

  • Joshua Little

    And this after Mark Regnerus was thrown under the bus and trampled by academics and journalists alike for his study suggesting children of SS parents do not fare as well. There was *more* than a healthy skepticism here. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/07/10/mark_regnerus_is_back_with_more_anti_gay_family_science.html

    But heaven help you if you question this one.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Regnerus is the writer of the blog post to which I linked, btw.

      • helen

        Saw that, at the bottom.

        Give it 20 years, and ask the children, or see what they are doing, compared to the children of 500 ‘straight’ parental couples, equally privileged, socially and economically, as these are.

        Shouldn’t journalists have some doubts about a “study” which reduces to the opinions of the parents?

    • Donalbain

      Yeah.. because he did a study showing that children of gay families do not do well, using a grand total of ZERO children brought up in families headed by two gay people. His study was a joke.

  • Darren Blair

    Given that I took both “business statistics” and “survey design” for my undergrad work, this “study” makes me want to tear my hair out.

    1. Children from same-sex families scored about 6 percent higher on general health and family cohesion

    What’s the margin of error on their numbers?

    For those who do not know what the term means, recall that a lot of surveys and polls say “[results], +/- _____”. This is the margin of error, and it represents the prospect that the numbers may not be exact. (Wikipedia has a big article on the concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margin_of_error )

    Depending upon how large the margin of error for this “study” happens to be, that 6% could potentially be negligible.

    2. However, on most health measures, including emotional behavior and physical functioning, there was no difference compared with children from the general population.

    This, IMHO, should have been where the focus was, not on the one stat that was potentially negligible. If the majority of the areas assessed showed “no difference”, then that rather Nerfs the premise of the “study”, no?

    3. About 80 percent of the kids had female parents and about 18 percent had male parents, the study states.

    [A] That comes out to 98%. What did the other 2% of children have?

    [B] Why were the numbers so lop-sided?

    • PalaceGuard

      “What did the other 2% of children have?” Spawned, perhaps, by transgendered species-neutral newts, a la Karel ?apek?

    • helen

      A. “about”
      B. still easier/cheaper for a woman to produce a child?

    • tearfang

      The big issue is that the gay families *volunteered* for the study. The self-selection principle is well known. If self-selected gay families fair about as well and a random non-gay family then chances are that a random gay family is actually worse off bc bad families are unlikely to volunteer to be evaluated.

      it would be nice if they reported p values too, but now I’m asking for real info… I guess you get what you pay for.

  • Leslie Palma-Simoncek

    This is old news. Hollywood announced this years ago with “The Kids Are All Right.” I think there were even Oscars, so it has to be true!!

  • PalaceGuard

    Sturgeon’s Law of Research proves that 90% of all research is crap.

  • Julia B

    I’ve known 2 lesbian couples with older children and I had a male couple with older kids as clients. In all three cases, the children were from earlier heterosexual marriages. Since mostly the moms get custody after a divorce, that might explain the lop-sided percentage of older kids with 2 moms.
    Another difference is that women only need a male friend and a turkey baster to make a baby- I learned about that from a lesbian classmate in a family law class back in the 80s. On the other hand, guys have to talk a woman into carrying a baby, birthing it and giving it up – that could also explain why children are more likely in lesbian unions.

  • Donalbain

    And another article with nothing to do with getting religion, but rather getting right wing American politics.

  • praxagora

    Actually, I’m interested in why you chose this article to critique. What’s the religious angle here? What did the article’s author miss? What’s the “ghost” in this story? Is it just that it deals with teh gays and must be refuted?
    Also, I just noticed that you linked to a Mark Regnerus blog post to question the methodology of this study – now that’s hilarious.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Religion obviously comes into play in the same-sex debate, even if it’s not specifically the question in this particular case. My apologies if the post was so subtle that you failed to grasp the severe shortcomings of the articles critiqued. Maybe go back and read it one more time.

      • praxagora

        Oh, I grasped that it was a bad article, and I think it seems like a bad study. I also guess that your analysis must have been very, very subtle, since, at no time, did you raise the spectre of any religious problems in the article. So I ask again, why is this a suitable article for GetReligion? In what way did the press not “get religion” in this case? Should there have been references to the fact that conservative Christians oppose gay adoptions? I’m not understanding. Maybe it really is all too subtle for me.

        But seriously, you get real style points for the Regnerus post. That’s some high quality trolling.


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