25-year-study suggests children of lesbians have fewer behavioral problems

Forenote: I do not doubt these findings. Similar studies have been carried out over the past 40 years among gay and lesbian couples who birth, foster, or adopt children, and each time with complimentary outcomes. However, I do not believe it has much to do with sexual orientation, and a lot more to do with loving, empathetic adult couples who deliberately plan and choose to become parents, and then actually parent those children 24 hours a day in an involved, secure, attached fashion.

Children born to lesbian couples (and adopted by gay men) are typically very wanted, and very planned-for. Various factors are in place (finances, health, relationship stability, social structure, etc.) before children are brought into the picture. As Gartrell points out, lesbian couples who elect to have children are typically older women, with ample life experience, occasionally higher educated, who do not 'accidentally' become parents overnight. As valuable as all human life is, there are no 'oops' babies that result in lesbian or gay partnerships who would otherwise not choose to bring children into this world (or add more children to the family). Babies are typically spaced according to what is healthy and truly doable for the family, the kids, and the parents. And research seems to suggest this makes a difference in how parenting is carried out, and the way it impacts the children involved.

by Madison Park for CNN Health
posted with permission

A nearly 25-year study concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers.

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, followed 78 lesbian couples who conceived through sperm donations and assessed their children's well-being through a series of questionnaires and interviews.

Funding for the research came from several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, such as the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund from the Gay Lesbian Medical Association.

Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the author of the study, wrote that the "funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study. My personal investment is in doing reputable research," said Gartrell. "This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it."

Gay parenting remains a controversial issue, with debates about topics including the children's psychological adjustment, their parents' sexual orientation and adoption restrictions.

Wendy Wright, president of the Concerned Women for America, a group that supports Biblical values, questioned the legitimacy of the findings from a study funded by gay advocacy groups. "That proves the prejudice and bias of the study," she said. "This study was clearly designed to come out with one outcome -- to attempt to sway people that children are not detrimentally affected in a homosexual household."

Gartrell started the study in 1986. She recruited subjects through announcements in bookstores, lesbian events, and newspapers throughout Boston, Massachusetts, San Francisco, California, and Washington.

The mothers were interviewed during pregnancy or the insemination process, and additionally when the children were 2, 5, 10 and 17 years old. Those children are now 18 to 23 years old.

They were interviewed four times as they matured and also completed an online questionnaire at age 17, focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships and academic progress.

To assess their well-being, Gartrell used the Child Behavior Checklist, a commonly used standard to measure children's behavioral and social problems, such as anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior and social competence.

The answers were coded into a computer and then analyzed. This data was compared with data from children of nonlesbian families.

The results surprised Gartrell. "I would have anticipated the kids would be doing as well as the normative sample," she said. "I did not expect better."

Children from lesbian families rated higher in social, academic and total competence. They also showed lower rates in social, rule-breaking, aggressive problem behavior.

The involvement of mothers may be a contributing factor, in addition to the fact that the pregnancies were planned, Gartrell said. The children "didn't arrive by accident," she said. "The mothers were older...they were waiting for an opportunity to have children and age brings maturity and better parenting."

This also could have occurred because "growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustment," Gartrell wrote in the study.

Some of the teenagers reported being stigmatized by peers because of their parents' sexuality. Researchers compared the figures in terms of the psychological adjustment between children who had experienced stigma versus those who did not. "We found no differences," Gartrell said. "That leads us to asking why and how are young people managing discrimination? That will be the topic of future papers. We'll look into what the ingredients are to allow them to cope despite adversity."

Gartrell studied only lesbian families, because circumstances surrounding gay male families are different. Gay men becoming fathers is newer in comparison with lesbians, because their options have been limited to adoption or surrogacy. Lesbians often conceive through donor insemination.

"This study shows that the 17-year-old adolescents who have been reared by lesbian families are psychologically happy and high functioning," said Gartrell, a Williams distinguished scholar at the UCLA School of Law. "Restrictions of child custody and reproductive technologies based on sexual orientation are not justified," she said.

Wright questioned the objectivity of Gartrell's research, saying the author can "cherry pick people who are involved and the info they release. In essence, this study claims to purport that children do better when raised by lesbians." Studies have shown that children thrive having both a mother and a father, Wright continued. "You have to be a little suspicious of any study that says children being raised by same-sex couples do better or have superior outcomes to children raised with a mother and father," she said. "It just defies common sense and reality."

CNN Tell iReport: Growing up with gay parents

For additional related information see Dr. Maureen Sullivan's The Family of Woman: Lesbian Mothers, Their Children, and the Undoing of Gender



  1. I appreciate the article and I'll admit upfront that I do not agree with gay marriage and am a christian. However, I find this article illuminating. Perhaps, as I have known for quite some time, the christian marriage is in trouble, not because of the encroachment of gay marriage, but from within. Marriage in christian circles has become a farce and shows a track record not much better than the "norm." I'm tired of pathetic excuses for why Christians get divorced, esp. when children are involved. We should take a lesson from this research. Dysfunction of the family often comes from within the marriage rather than without. And many christian marriages are some of the sickest I've ever seen when we should be the best.

  2. I certainly found this article surpassed my expectations. I myself was raised in a mother-father household, but when my parents divorced, my mother found an amazing woman who makes my mother very happy. Her partner has a son of her own, whom my own mother has helped raise and there have been significant positive changes in his personality. Furthermore, they are foster parents of infants (3 of whom they have had for over a year) and these children have also become much more well adjusted and happy than in the beginning. They are fighting to adopt the little girl, but because of their orientation, they are not being taken seriously. They too are also in the process of artificial insemination to begin adding to their very loving home. I certainly hope the findings of this study will change the minds of everyone and make it easier for lesbian parents to be treated equally.

  3. This isn't the first time such a study has come out, and I hope it will not be the last.

    While I would argue that loving parents are the most important thing, it is a huge validation when research studies come out backing non-normative families. These are the families that are marginalized, forgotten about - or having hateful behaviour directed at them. These are the families that need celebration, because not only do they do so well, they do so against some of society's expectations!

    We are a two mom household and are raising twins. Everyone around us has not batted an eye at our family make up, and in some cases medical professionals have said how lucky our babies are to have two mommies. Long may this attitude continue!

    Cheers to this blog for posting this.

  4. It completely makes sense to me. It is simply wonderful!

  5. While it may be that the children born to Lesbian households are well-adjusted, which is great. I still think children need fathers. Not father-figures, but fathers, daddy, etc. Daddy's are too important.

  6. Thank you so much for this post! DW and I are currently awaiting our first placement through foster-to-adopt (as well as still trying to get me pregnant). I'll remember this when those doubts creep in!



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