Contrary to some assertions by the right, teens raised by lesbian couples do not suffer from the absence of a male role model, according to new findings from the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study.
The study, which has been following lesbian families for 26 years, looks at 17-year-olds in lesbian-headed households in an article published online this month by the journal Gender & Society. About half of the young people in the study, both boys and girls, report having a significant male role model in their life, even though they have two mothers. But there was no difference in psychological well-being between those who have such a role model and those who do not. There was also no evidence that the presence of a male role model affects traits commonly associated with gender roles or that boys require a male role model to be well-adjusted.
Previous research based on this study has found no difference in well-being between children raised in lesbian families and and those in heterosexual two-parent families. The study is confined to planned lesbian families, meaning that both partners identified as lesbian before having children. Researchers recruited participants between 1986 and 1992 and have checked in with them at various points in their lives. Most of the participants are middle-class.
“Our data suggest that it would be inappropriate for healthcare professionals or social service agents to assume psychological disadvantage to offspring of same-sex parents who do not have role models of both genders,” the authors write. “Likewise, prospective same-sex parents who have concerns about the long-term impact of rearing children in single-gender-parent households should be advised that the quality of the parenting, rather than the sexual orientation of the parents, has stronger associations with the psychological adjustment of offspring. Finally, our data indicate no basis for denying child custody or restricting access to fertility services, adoption, or foster care based on family type.”
These findings are far different from those in a much-criticized recent study by University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus, which claimed that children with gay or lesbian parents had more difficulties than those raised by married heterosexual couples. However, he defined gay and lesbian parents to include those who had had a same-sex encounter at any time, and largely did not include committed same-sex couples in his study. Several mental health and LGBT rights groups blasted his study; the American Psychological Association, for instance, noted that “research has shown that the adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.”
The authors of the Gender & Society article are Naomi Goldberg and Nanette Gartrell, both with the Williams Institute, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity and is based at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law; and Henny Bos and Loes Van Gelderen, both with the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. For more, including a link to a PDF of the full article, click here.