Scholars question study claiming kids raised by LGBT parents have 'similar' or better outcomes

Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia
Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia

The methodology of a new study claiming that children raised by same-sex couples or trans-identified parents fare just as well or better than those raised by parents of the opposite sex has been questioned by experts and scholars. 

Research published this month in BMJ Global Health by Chinese researchers proclaims that children raised by LGBT parents could fare better in some aspects than children raised by heterosexual parents. The report is based on an analysis of 16 of 34 studies conducted between 1989 and April 2022 in countries where same-sex marriage is legal.

"The quantitative synthesis results suggested that sexual minority families may perform better in children's psychological adjustment and parent–child relationship than heterosexual families ... but not couple relationship satisfaction ... parental mental health ... parenting stress ... or family functioning," the report's abstract states. 

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"Most of the family outcomes are similar between sexual minority and heterosexual families, and sexual minority families have even better outcomes in some domains."

The researchers suggest that growing up with "sexual minority" parents "may confer some advantages," claiming that these parents are more "tolerant of diversity and more nurturing towards younger children" than heterosexual parents.

Regarding education, the analysis assessed six studies, four of which found that children raised by same-sex couples have "the higher rate of grade retention, lower graduation rate or worse educational attainment than children from different-sex couples." However, two studies reported that children raised by sexual minority parents outperform kids raised in heterosexual families when it comes to "standardised test scores, high school graduation rates, college enrolment, and school/academic competence." 

In terms of psychological adjustment, the BMJ paper claims that some studies showed that children raised by same-sex couples fared better than children raised by opposite-sex parents. Some of the risks kids raised in sexual minority families face, according to the meta-analysis, are social stigma and discrimination. 

"The next step is to integrate multiple aspects of support and multilevel interventions to reduce the adverse effects on family outcomes with a long-term goal of influencing policy and law making for better services to individuals, families, communities and schools," the study concluded.

Jay W. Richards, director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family and the William E. Simon senior research fellow at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, argues that the report is "tailor-made to produce headlines." 

"The paper is supposedly a metanalysis of 34 other studies," the policy analyst told The Christian Post in a Friday statement. "But, as statistician William Briggs notes, the authors used a method whereby they double count all but one of the papers." 

Richards, an author who also serves as executive editor of The Stream, contends that the 16 other studies the report includes in its metanalysis were based on the self-reports of adoptive parents.

"No kids or their outcomes were studied," the research fellow stated. "What's more, it's not clear that the authors even tried to control for confounding variables. For instance, any serious study should control for family income and parents' educational background." 

Richards concludes that the paper was "clearly" designed with the outcome in mind and "engineered to produce it — counting on a gullible press to report that outcome, rather than looking carefully at the study."

In a Substack post, Briggs, who took issue with the paper appearing to double count the studies it cited. As the statistical consultant pointed out, the 2010 study titled "Parenting and Child Development in Adoptive Families: Does Parental Sexual Orientation Matter?" appears as four separate papers. 

Counting the 2010 paper more than once contributed to the total meta-analysis sample size in the BMJ paper four times, according to Briggs, who has a Ph.D. in statistics from Cornell University. In addition, Briggs' found that all but one paper was double-counted in the report.

"And did you notice that this result is based on parents' self report?" the statistician wrote. "You have to dig into the paper to find teacher contribution was slight; and anyway these were mostly preschoolers. How many adopting parents, especially experiments in living parents, would answer negatively about their adoptees?" 

The BMJ study, however, also found that "compared with the children who lived in heterosexual parent families, the children who lived in sexual minority parent families had a lower expected likelihood of developing as heterosexual." 

Paul Batura, vice president of communications at the Christian parachurch organization Focus on the Family, found fault with the study's assertion that children from sexual minority families "have even better outcomes in some domains" than those from heterosexual families.

"In other words, they're claiming we're actually disadvantaging children by giving them their mother and father," Batura told CP in a Friday statement. "This is nonsensical and challenges all reason." 

He criticized the study's attempts to compare the disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual parent families, noting that these are "two highly generalized categories as to be essentially meaningless in practicality." 

As Batura contends, "heterosexual parent families" could mean married biological families, cohabiting, divorced, single or step-parent families. The question about the type of family is relevant, as each one has "drastically different" child well-being outcomes. 

"Astonishingly, the authors never explain this," the Focus on the Family expert stated. "They don't even try. They just lump them all together in a general mish-mash which is nearly useless." 

"And they do the very same on the 'sexual minority families' side, but more dramatically so," he added. 

The study authors clarify in the paper that sexual minority is an "umbrella term including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, gender nonconforming people and other populations whose sexual orientation or gender identity and reproductive development is considered outside cultural, societal or physiological norms."

However, Batura emphasized that the authors made no effort to break this into meaningful categories and carefully measure each against the other. 

"Are lesbian families better than 'queer, intersex, or gender non-conforming' families?" he asked. "These scholars couldn't tell you because they don't provide any such distinction." 

He stressed that science looks at "specific, objective things" and compares them; it doesn't work in "overly broad generalities." Since the study does the latter, Batura argued that it is not science. 

"Unfortunately, these authors never actually address how children being raised by their own married mother and father fare in contrast to all these other new genderless forms," he stated. "One suspects they know all too well what that would show."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follower her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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