Another Bogus Study on Same-Sex Parenting

Another Bogus Study on Same-Sex Parenting June 14, 2012

There’s a new study out that purports to compare the well-being of children raised by gay and straight parents, concluding that children of gay parents have more negative outcomes. But the study is little more than a bad joke. As John Corvino points out, it was clearly designed to compare apples to hand grenades and to reach the desired result (the study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute, a religious right organization). Corvino notes how broad the sample group for gay parents is:

Question: What do the following all have in common?

A heterosexually married female prostitute who on rare occasion services women

A long-term gay couple who adopt special-needs children

A never-married straight male prison inmate who sometimes seeks sexual release with other male inmates

A woman who comes out of the closet, divorces her husband, and has a same-sex relationship at age 55, after her children are grown

Ted Haggard, the disgraced evangelical pastor who was caught having drug fueled-trysts with a male prostitute over a period of several years

A lesbian who conceives via donor insemination and raises several children with her long-term female partner

Give up? The answer—assuming that they all have biological or adopted adult children between the ages of 18 and 39—is that they would all be counted as “Lesbian Mothers” or “Gay Fathers” in Mark Regnerus’s new study, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” (NFSS)…

Instead, Regnerus—a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin—asked respondents whether their mothers or fathers had ever had a same-sex relationship, regardless of the duration of the relationship and “regardless of any other household transitions.” He then allowed those answers to trump others in order to increase the “Lesbian Mother” and “Gay Father” sample size and treated all of the family-form categories as mutually exclusive, even though they are not. (To use the Haggard example: although he is still technically in an “intact biological family,” he would be counted among the “Gay Father” families in this study.)

In other words, Regnerus’ “Lesbian Mother” and “Gay Father” categories (unlike the “Intact Biological Family” Category) included children of adoptive parents, step-parents, single parents, and, notably, a large number from divorced parents. Regnerus then observes in the resulting data that the children of his “Lesbian Mothers” and “Gay Fathers” look less like children of married biological parents than they do like children of adoptive parents, step-parents, single parents, and divorced parents. Well, duh.

If Regnerus actually wanted to make a valid comparison, it’s certainly possible to do so. He could compare children of single straight mothers to children of single straight fathers (while controlling for a number of other factors, of course — race, income, religion, etc.). He could compare children adopted by gay couples in committed relationships with children adopted by straight married couples. But he didn’t do that; he compared a huge range of different family situations — children of divorce and adoption, children of single parents and many more — with children from stable households with two parents. It should hardly be a shock that he reaches the conclusion he does, it is guaranteed by the nature of the sample groups.

Jim Burroway points to many of the same problems:

I understand Regnerus’s problem with having a sample of lesbian mothers and gay fathers that is too small to make statistical comparisons with the control group. But the proper solution to that problem would have been to go back to Knowledge Networks for another round of sample recruitment. Then perhaps he could have compared children of gay and lesbian parents who had been brought up in a stable environment with children of heterosexual parents in a stable environment. He could have also compared children of gay and lesbian parents in unstable environments with their heterosexual counterparts.

But instead, he undertakes a manipulation which I believe represents the fatal flaw of this study. If one wanted to intentionally create Lesbian Mothers and Gay Fathers groups which were least likely to look like an intact biological family, I can’t imagine a better way to do so than to take the steps Regnerus has taken here. He enlarged his LM and GF groups by lumping together a mishmash of overlapping characteristics into two messy samples. The other six categories are relatively homogenous for straight people, but Regnerus’s enlargement of LM and GF groups makes them deliberately heterogeneous. And now having done this, he’s about to compare two deliberately heterogeneous categories (LM and GF) to a deliberately homogeneous category. Well of course there will be differences once you do that!…

Marriage equality opponents will trumpet this study as proof that children raised by loving, committed, married same-sex couples will have more problems than those who are raised by both biological parents in a heterosexual household. But the samples that Regnerus put together to compare to the ideal heterosexual household cannot make such a claim because it says almost nothing about committed same-sex couples who, together, decide to become parents via adoption, in-vitro fertilization or surrogacy…

What Regnerus sees as a strength, I see as a gross weakness in the context of current debates over same-sex marriage. Those debates center on whether committed, loving same-sex relationships are worthy of recognition, and one component of that debate has been what effects, if any, loving, same-sex relationships have on children. But to have a legitimate comparison, you’d have to look at children whose experience in that same-sex family was, for all intents and purposes, in place for their entire or almost entire childhoods. After all, that is the experience of children from intact biological heterosexual families.

But in this study, only 57% said they had lived with their mother and her partner for at least four months before the age of 18, and only 23% reported living with their father and his partner for the same length of time. Only 23% of LM children and 2% of GF children reported living with their parents and their parents’ same-sex partners for three years or more. And when looking at the outcomes of those children, we are being led to believe that those outcomes are in some way related to the short amounts of time that those children spent with their gay or lesbian parents while in a same-sex relationship, and not the fifteen-plus years the vast majority of them spent outside of that dynamic. The illogic behind this comparison is mind-boggling.

No doubt the bigots will be citing this study until the cows come home, but it clearly isn’t worth the paper it is printed on.

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  • marcus

    This is the very same study that Ed Whelan at NRO cited the other day and I posted about in the “NRO, Please Hep Us!” thread. Color me unsurprised that they were gaming the stats. What a hypocritical maroon!

  • Marriage equality opponents will trumpet this study as proof that children raised by loving, committed, married same-sex couples will have more problems than those who are raised by both biological parents in a heterosexual household.

    This. Is. The. Intent. Of. This. Study.

  • No doubt the bigots will be citing this study until the cows come home…

    Well, as long as the cows come home with opposite-sex partners, I guess it’s okay…

  • MadMax

    Bad statistical methodology: a favorite tactic of bigots of every stripe.

  • Considering that most homobigots are also anti-choice, you would think that logical coherence would require them to support LGBT parenting, even if (contrary to all evidence) LGBT people were the worst possible parents. After all, if abortion really is killing someone, how exactly would being raised by a same-sex couple possibly be worse?

    Of course, I’m actually expecting rationality/logic out of homobigots, so I know why they won’t do it.

  • When scientists do proper research into the subject, as have a number of e.g. Dutch and Danish researchers, they have, unsurprisingly, found that the most important parameter for the well-being of kids, is the home environment. A stable environment, with few fights between people is better than one that is not. A loving and caring behavior towards the child is of course also paramount.

    It seems like it is slightly better to have two adults raising the kid, than only one, all other things being equal.

    So, in other words, it is better to be raised by unwed parents, gay parents, single parents, adoptive parents etc., as long as they are loving and caring, and provides a stable home, than by e.g. a heterosexual married couple that raises children according to Dobson, who believes in harsh punishment for the smallest thing.

  • cptdoom

    One of the things I noticed immediately that demonstrated Regnerus’ errors was the rate of families having been on welfare he reported. According to his groupings, children with “LMs” (lesbian mothers) and “GFs” (gay fathers), had the highest rates of experience with being on welfare as children (69% and 57% respectively). We know that poverty is highly correlated with negative outcomes, and could be the reason for the findings.

    If you look at the 2010 Census data you see that the poverty statistic in this research doesn’t make sense when you look at the current state of gay and lesbian couples, or at least those that are willing to come out for the Census. Gay and lesbian couples have a homeowner rate of at least 66%, and at least 66% of those couples have incomes above $50,000. Although the numbers do not break out same-sex households raising children with those who are not, the methods by which gay and lesbian couples become parents tend to be more expensive than straights (excluding those children born during previous heterosexual relationships). In vitro fertilization and surrogacy are extremely expensive, and adoption can be both time-consuming and expense (particularly overseas adoptions). It does not stand to reason those couples are on welfare very often, so the sample Regnerus studied cannot have much to do with the children currently being raised by gay or lesbian couples.

  • Test.

  • Have I been banned?

  • marcus

    Thank you captdoom and Kristin Wager for presenting objective evidence for the truth of the matter.

  • marcus

    PS Ed Whelan S.T.F.U.

  • Mattir

    Wow. According to this study, I am a Lesbian Mother™. Strange that I’ve been in a monogamous 23 year relationship with a man, but those college relationships with women are apparently all that’s needed to erradicate the significance of my actual married life.

  • Can we please stop calling these “errors” or “flaws” given that it’s a decent guess that this was the desired out come?

    A gun killing someone it’s shot at isn’t a fucking “flaw” it’s doing what it’s designed to.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Focus on the Family has already declared this the “‘Gold Standard’ of Same-Sex Parenting Studies”.

  • dingojack

    Raging Bee (#3) – “Well, as long as the cows come home with opposite-sex partners…”

    Bull. *



    * ‘No really!’

  • thomwatson

    And even if this study actually did prove what the right says it proves (hint: it doesn’t), so what? We know that broken homes are less optimal for childraising than an IBF, yet we don’t prohibit people with children from divorcing, nor do we prohibit divorced people from remarrying. We know that absent fathers provide a less optimal environment for childraising, but we don’t prevent deadbeat dads from remarrying (the Supreme Court specifically says we cannot do so so), nor may we prevent death row inmates from marrying. We know that a single-parent home is a less optimal environment for raising children, yet i most states we don’t prevent single people from adopting, and we don’t make it illegal to have a child out of wedlock. We don’t predicate marriage, adoption, or having or raising a child for any other group on some degree of “fitness” to do so, even despite years of evidence of just as much of a lack of said fitness as is being alleged of gay parents and gay people now, yet we gay Americans are supposed to have to pass some kind of test in order to be allowed access to these things. Even if we granted that same-sex couples provided a less optimal environment for raising children (and this study tells us absolutely nothing about that hypothesis), that would not be a reason to deny gay people adoption rights, and it certainly wouldn’t be a reason to deny us marriage. Equality and liberty aren’t just for those that the right find “deserving” of them; the constitution promises them to all of us.

  • @thomwatson:

    The entire argument from the religious right has to do with the fact that single-sex marriage is bad for the kids. They’ve never had a study they can cite to prove that, now there’s a study to ‘prove’ it.

  • matty1

    Focus on the Family has already declared this the “‘Gold Standard’ of Same-Sex Parenting Studies”.

    Superficially attractive to people who like old fashioned certainties but unsuited to the real world and supported by ignorance? Yep that sounds about right.

  • R Johnston

    What does it take to lose a tenured faculty position? This “study” is no different in terms of academic and intellectual dishonesty than if the underlying data were simply made up whole cloth. Faking your data and faking your analysis of data in order to reach a predetermined conclusion you know to be unsupportable are the same offense in any sane world.

  • Vall

    I wonder if Ted Haggard will cite this study.

  • hunter

    Burroway’s done follow-up noting the timeline on this study — to say it was fast-tracked is understating things by quite a bit.

    So now we know what the purpose of the study was — purely political. (An election year and a Democratic president who has just — finally — voiced his support for same-sex marriage. Who could ask for more?)

  • Abby Normal

    Someone should do a similar study but stack the deck the other way, unstable heterosexual parents verses stable homosexual ones. The results will show that children in homosexual households do far better. Watch how quickly the people who currently laud Regnerus’s study can suddenly identify the methodological flaws. You may not stop them from citing Regnerus’s study. But I bet you could give a few of them whiplash.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Reports have it that hyperchristian foundations (Witherspoon & Bradley) put a total of $785,000 into this “research”.

    Both of those, plus the media organs which first publicized it, turn out to have direct links to wingnut intellectual Robert George and the good ol’ National Organization for Marriage.

    A few more hard questions desperately need asking (don’t they, Sociology Department at University of Texas/Austin?).