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Study: Same-Sex Parenting Hurts Kids More Than We Think

A new study on children raised by same-sex couples further confirms the findings of previous, authoritative studies: the healthiest environment for a child is a home with a mother and a father. Those seeking to protect the “stygmatized minority” of same-sex parents, the study’s author suggests, may be letting ideology trump biology and placing the desires of adults above the health of children.

The study, conducted by sociology professor D. Paul Sullins of the Catholic University of America, found that children raised by same-sex couples are far more likely to suffer depression than those raised by male-female parents and demonstrate a higher risk of suicidality, “imbalanced closeness,” child abuse, and self-esteem and obesity problems.

Sullins’ study, which used information from the nonpartisan National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to track children raised by 20 same-sex couples (17 lesbian couples and 3 gay couples) over a period of 13 years (1995 to 2008), found that the problems with those raised in same-sex homes often began to surface in their twenties.

“At age 28, the adults raised by same-sex parents were at over twice the risk of depression as persons raised by man-woman parents,” he wrote. Sullins also found an “elevated risk associated with imbalanced closeness and parental child abuse in family of origin; depression, suicidality, and anxiety at age 15; and stigma and obesity” in those raised in same-sex homes.

By 28, the children from the study raised by same-sex parents were “2.25 times more likely to experience depression than is the general population,” found Sullins. The difference was similar when it came to obesity, with 37 percent of adults raised in opposite-sex homes reporting being obese, compared to 71.9 percent from same-sex homes. The difference between traditional and same-sex homes was even more marked when it came to suicide: 7 percent from homes with male and female couples reported having suicidal thoughts, compared to a stunning 37 percent from same-sex homes.

That some of the signs of the psychological impact do not appear until later, posited Sullins, has skewed some studies which found “no difference” between children raised by same-sex couples. “The presence of delayed onset depression for children with same-sex parents may help to explain both findings of ‘no difference’ in mental health at adolescence and substantial differences in adult mental health when compared to children with opposite-sex parents,” he said. ​

“The emergence of higher depression risk in early adulthood, coupled with a more frequent history of abuse victimization, parental distance, and obesity,” writes Sullins, warrants further study and should not be either “exaggerated nor dismissed out of hand on preconceived ideological grounds.” The “well-intentioned concern for revealing negative information about a stigmatized minority does not justify leaving children without support in an environment that may be problematic or dangerous for their dignity and security,” he warns.

While Sullins acknowledges the limited sample size of his study, due to the “sparse” available data spanning that period, and that it contradicts several similar studies, he notes that many of those studies finding “no differences” in well-being for same-sex-raised children have begun to be challenged and reanalyzed due to methodological and data problems:

The sparse and gendered nature of the same-sex parent population largely restricts research in this area to the examination of small samples of lesbian parents. Unfortunately, this difficulty has prompted an almost universal dependence on convenience samples [7, 8] recruited, with knowledge of study goals, from internet surveys, “LGBT events, bookstore and newspaper advertisements, word of mouth, networking, and youth groups” [2]. Reanalyses have confirmed, not surprisingly, the presence in such samples of strong ascertainment bias, social desirability bias, and/or positive reporting bias [9–11]. In most studies, lack of statistical significance using simple bivariate tests in such samples is then erroneously interpreted as strong evidence of “no differences” in the population, even when difference in estimates or effect sizes are substantively large and even though the sample is not representative [12].

As the Federalist’s D.C. McAllister, who reported on Sullins’ findings, explains, his limited study is not the first to highlight potential harm resulting from single-sex parenting. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published an extensive study proving the importance of biological fathers in the ‘healthy development of children,'” McAllister notes. “In addition, ‘the most careful, rigorous, and methodologically sound study ever conducted‘ on the issue of homosexual parenting found ‘numerous and significant differences’ between children raised by biological parents and children of homosexuals, ‘with the outcomes for children of homosexuals rated ‘suboptimal’ in almost every category.'”

McAllister offers some poignant thoughts on the psychology behind the findings of Sullins, Health and Human Services, sociologist Mark Regnerus, et al — most fundamentally, the basic human need to know “who we are and where we come from.”

Essential to our identity as human beings—as individuals—is knowledge of who we are and where we come from. One of the most basic questions we ask as humans is “Who am I?” The most fundamental answer to that question involves knowing our parents, our heritage, our ancestry, and our origins (which leads to questions of a Creator).

We don’t come into this world as isolated individuals disconnected from a community. We are not like the people in “Brave New World,” raised in test tubes and subject to the whim of the powerful as they control and manipulate us. We are born to one man and one woman— into a particular family—and that family gives us identity, meaning, and safety. To take us out of that context and place us in another that is simply a parody of a real family is to separate us from parts of ourselves, hence dehumanizing and setting us adrift on the isolating currents of nihilism.

Every person has the need and fundamental right to self-knowledge. If we’re denied this self-knowledge, then we have only “other-knowledge,” and this leads to loss of self-determination—it is a kind of bondage, as we are defined by others.

Read Sullins’ full report here.

This article has been expanded to provide more details from Sullins’ study.

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