Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Study says kids of lesbians just as healthy as those of straight parents


Dr. Nanette GartrellPhoto: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Children of same-sex parents are just as healthy emotionally and physically as the children of different-sex parents, according to a recently published study.

The study, "Same-Sex and Different-Sex Parent Households and Child Health Outcomes: Findings from the National Survey of Children's Health," published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, is the first to compare same-sex and different-sex parent households with stable, continuously coupled parents and their biological offspring, according to co-author Dr. Nanette Gartrell, a prominent San Francisco psychiatrist and a visiting scholar at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a think tank focused on research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.

Gartrell is a lesbian known for her groundbreaking longitudinal study of lesbian mothers and their children.

The current study, done by researchers affiliated with the Williams Institute, the University of Amsterdam, and Columbia University, found that children raised by female same-sex couples are just as healthy physically and emotionally as kids from opposite-sex couples. The study only looked at lesbian households, because there were too few male same-sex parent families in the database.

Using data from the 2011-2012 nationally representative population-based survey on children's health, Gartrell and her colleagues matched 95 same-sex female parent households to 95 different-sex parents based on the following characteristics: parents' age, parents' level of education, whether parents were born in the United States, family residence (urban or rural), child's age, child's race, child's gender, and whether the child was born in the United States or elsewhere.

The study found that there were no differences in the children when it came to their general health, their emotional difficulties, their coping behaviors, and their learning behaviors. What the study found to be more indicative predictors of these behaviors were the relationships between the parents, the parents and child, and parenting stress.

The study did note that lesbian parents reported higher levels of parenting stress, which Gartrell attributed to perceived homophobia.

Gartrell told the Bay Area Reporter that lesbian couples who parent in certain parts of the country, such as San Francisco, may experience less stress due to the greater visibility of such couples in many communities. And, she added, as people in all parts of the country read or hear stories about families with gay parents, such stress should lessen everywhere.

"Our earlier studies have shown that same-sex parents feel pressured to justify the quality of their parenting more than their heterosexual counterparts," she said in an interview with the B.A.R.

"We also suspect and feel that more study is warranted, but the cultural spotlight on same-sex parenting may be part of the stress," she said.

Those against same-sex parenting have pointed to studies that have found gay parents to have a negative impact on childhood outcomes, such as lower levels of income, and poorer mental and physical health.

Gartrell pointed out that some previous studies didn't compensate for family transitions, and have found gay parents to have a negative impact on childhood outcomes, such as lower levels of income, and poorer mental and physical health.

But Gartrell added that studies like those didn't compensate for the fact that they were comparing children from same-sex couples who were not continuously coupled. Rather, those studies looked at children from same-sex families who experienced family changes such as divorce, adoption, or foster care and compared them to children from stable households with different-sex parents.

Other researchers said that some courts have changed in the way they deal with family issues.

"In recent years, several courts have thrown out the testimony of witnesses who have attempted to draw conclusions by comparing children of same-sex parents who were not continuously coupled, and whose children had experienced family transitions (parental separation, adoption, foster care, etc.), with children of different-sex parents in stable families," Douglas NeJaime, UCLA professor of law and faculty director at the Williams Institute, said in a statement.

"In these cases, courts have either rejected these comparisons as invalid research or rejected the expertise of the witness trying to make such comparisons," he added.

The study used data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health, a nationally representative population-based survey on children's health approved by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


To read the study, visit



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