The Regnerus Study, Debunked Yet Again

The Regnerus Study, Debunked Yet Again May 8, 2015

That infamous study on gay parents by Mark Regnerus has been roundly denounced by other sociologists, who note that the methodology he used was so bad as to be laughable. Now a new study of his own data finds that if you correct some of those methodological problems, the rational conclusion is the opposite of the one he reached.

Indiana University’s Brian Powell and the University of Connecticut’s Simon Cheng didn’t just find methodological flaws in Regnerus’ research — they took the data he collected, cleaned it up, and redid the study, coming to a very different conclusion about families led by same-sex couples. Their article will be published in “Social Science Research,” the same journal that published the Regnerus study.

By eliminating suspect data — for example, a 25-year-old respondent who claimed to be 7’8” tall, 88 pounds, married 8 times and with 8 children, and another who reported having been arrested at age 1 — and correcting what they view as Regnerus’ methodological errors, Cheng and Powell found that Regnerus’ conclusions were so “fragile” that his data could just as easily show that children raised by gay and lesbian parents don’t face negative adult outcomes.

“[W]hen equally plausible and, in our view, preferred methodological decisions are used,” they wrote, “a different conclusion emerges: adult children who lived with same-sex parents show comparable outcome profiles to those from other family types, including intact biological families.”

In other words, as University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen put it, “when you clean the data and fix the things that are fixable, the results just don’t hold up.”

Regnerus is little but a punchline in sociology now, as he should be. Only one thing needs to be said to discredit his study: The groups he compared were in no way remotely comparable. He compared intact families with broken families where one of the parents were gay (more accurately, if one of the parents had ever had even a single gay sexual experience) and said, “Gee, the outcomes for the second group are worse than for the second group.” Yeah, no shit. People from broken families don’t fare as well as people from intact families. The fact that none of the second group actually involved families led by a stable gay couple alone shows how slanted and ridiculous his study was.

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