Analysis: PolitiFact Is Wrong; Social Science Does Show Children Do Best With a Mom and a Dad

Despite a wealth of social science research showing that children do best when raised by their biological, married mother and father, PolitiFact rated this claim "false" after Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, stated it on Fox News Sunday.

"We know from the social science that children do best with a mom and a dad," Perkins said on the Oct. 12 Sunday morning news show.

Later that afternoon, PolitiFact posted an article rating the statement "false."

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(Photo: Screengrab)PolitiFact.com article posted Oct. 12, 2014. Pictured are Ted Olson (L) and Tony Perkins (R).

A 2013 report by Child Trends summarizing social science research on the topic stated, however, that, "on average, children in single-parent families are more likely to have problems than are children who live in intact families headed by two biological parents."

Children raised in homes that experience a divorce are more likely to have "academic and behavior problems" such as "depression, antisocial behavior, impulsive/hyperactive behavior, and school behavior problems."

And, children raised by stepparents "have lower levels of well-being than children growing up with biological parents." Which means "it is not simply the presence of two parents, as some have assumed, but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children's development." (Emphasis in original.)

In May, a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention similarly found that children raised by their biological mother and father experience fewer traumatic events than children raised by only one or neither of their biological parents.

Additionally, research published in the Decemberw 2013, issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex found that fatherlessness harms the brain. And in January, three Harvard economists published research showing that two-parent families even matter for entire communities. Children raised in communities with a large proportion of two-parent homes have more opportunities to escape poverty even if they are raised in a single-parent home than children raised in communities with few two-parent families.

Though it was reported after the PolitiFact article, a new study by the American Enterprise Institute found that children raised by their biological mother and father are more economically successful than children not raised by their biological mother and father.

The importance of two-parent families and involved fathers is also a topic President Barack Obama speaks about often. In a February interview with Bill O'Reilly, he noted that he has delivered "at least 10 speeches" on "the importance of men taking responsibility for their children."

In one of those speeches, he told the graduates at Morehouse College to be "the best father you can be to your children, because nothing is more important."

That "children do best with a mom and a dad" is so widely supported and understood today, it is difficult to imagine how PolitiFact, a website devoted to correcting false information, could get that wrong. So what happened?

Rather than fact-checking what Perkins said, PolitiFact fact-checked something Perkins did not say.

Since Perkins made the statement in the context of a debate about same-sex marriage, PolitiFact apparently assumed he meant, "children do better with a mom and a dad than with two moms or two dads," and decided to fact check that. By its own admission, PolitiFact entirely ignored any study dealing with single-parent households, claiming such studies had no bearing on whether Perkins' statement is true.

But that was not what Perkins said. He was pointing out what social science clearly shows: children do best when raised by their biological mother and father compared to all other family structures.

So the only fact check done by PolitiFact was on what social science research says about gay parenting, but even on that point its analysis is flawed.

As The Christian Post pointed out in a two-part series in March and April, 2013, gay parenting is difficult to study because it is a new phenomenon and few have been raised in same-sex households. Understanding the effects of gay parenting, from a social science perspective, will take time — time for children raised by gay parents to grow up and appear in probability samples in large enough numbers that their outcomes can be measured.

PolitiFact believes, however, that their is enough social science research to conclude that "children of lesbian parents do as well as other children." This conclusion is based upon a 2012 study that did not use a probability sample and a 2005 review of research conducted by the American Psychological Association, which also relies upon research conducted without probability samples.

PolitiFact did not look at an October 2013, study that did use a large probability sample (the 2006 Canadian census) and found that children raised in same-sex households are much less likely to graduate from high school. Indeed, their outcomes were even worse than children raised by single parents.

PolitiFact decided to ignore the results of the New Family Structures Study, which also used a large probability sample but was unable to conclude that gay parents are as good as married biological parents.

PolitiFact apparently decided to ignore that study because it was controversial. (Note to PolitiFact: any research that does not conclude that gay parents are as good as straight parents will be controversial in the current political climate.)

PolitiFact also incorrectly stated that the study was "denounced" by its own university, the University of Texas. As Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at FRC, pointed out in a blog post about the PolitiFact article, the NFSS study was investigated by UT, but the conclusion of that investigation was that there was no scientific misconduct related to the study.

PolitiFact never fact-checked Obama's comments about the problems of fatherlessness because his statements are considered uncontroversial when said outside the context of the gay marriage debate. But the fact remains, a child raised by two moms is fatherless, and a child raised by two dads is motherless.

While social science cannot directly say, at this point, what the outcomes will be for children raised by same-sex couples, it can say that children do best when raised by their mom and dad, and that is an important fact in the marriage debate.