WEDNESDAY, Jan. 27, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Same-sex couples are as good at raising well-adjusted, healthy children as heterosexual couples are, a review of 20 years of social science research finds.
"There's a deeply held and widespread view out there that children need both a mother and a father to do well," said study author Judith Stacey, a professor of sociology and of social and cultural analysis at New York University in New York City. "And it seems to be a bipartisan conviction -- with a lot of public policy based on that premise -- since literally both President Bush and President Obama have said exactly that."
"But the point is that this orthodoxy is supposedly supported not just by a belief, but by actual research," Stacey noted. "Yet we found that, in fact, there is no research that shows that children need both a mother and a father. And we looked everywhere."
Stacey and study co-author Timothy J. Biblarz, chairman of the sociology department at the University of Southern California, published their findings in the February issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
The authors contended that advocates for the notion that children need a male and female parent often bolster their argument by citing apples and oranges research: studies that stack up two-parent heterosexual families against single parents. But such work, they stressed, confusingly pools together the number of parents with the gender of parents, rather than teasing out one or the other.
Instead, honing in specifically on gender and the impact it has on child-rearing among same-sex and heterosexual parents, the authors reviewed 81 studies conducted since 1990 that fell into one of two categories: two-parent family studies comparing lesbian couples with heterosexual couples in terms of parenting skills and/or the psychological and social well-being of their children; and studies that compared single-mother parenting with that of single-fathers.
The authors were unable to include studies concerning parenting by gay male couples, as "it's a much newer field of research that hasn't gotten to that stage yet," they said.
In terms of parental skills, the reviewed studies typically measured familial dynamics such as parental consistency, nurturance, communication, structure, scheduling, stability, conflict and abuse. In terms of child well-being, the studies assessed psychosocial development measurements such as self-esteem, school achievement, peer relations, mental health status and depression, social problems and substance abuse.
The authors concluded that men and women of the same social class and educational background are more similar in the way they parent than women are with other women or men with all other men; that the offspring of lesbian and heterosexual parents are actually more alike than they are different; and that to date there is no research to suggest that parental gender has any significant impact on the well-being of a child.
"The bottom line is that it is the quality of parenting, not the gender of the parents, that matters for child outcomes," said Stacey.
She predicts that research with gay men will have similar results. "There's every reason to believe that, and a fairly good indication with the research that is already there, but we can't yet say that absolutely," she said.
Dr. Ellen C. Perrin, a professor of pediatrics at Tufts School of Medicine and chief of the division of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said the current conclusions are not new.
"This is old news," she said. "It's great that they put this analysis together. But a number of us have been citing these studies over and over again for a number of years. And it's very clear that -- with the proviso that so far the same-sex couples studied have been almost all lesbian couples -- there is no data that shows that heterosexual couples are any different than same-sex couples in raising healthy children."
"In fact, because it typically takes a lot more planning and thought to become parents," added Perrin, "if anything there is a very high level of commitment to parenting among same-sex couples."
Perrin was the lead author of a 2002 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report on same-sex parenting that prompted the AAP to issue an adjoining policy statement in support of second parent and/or co-parent adoption rights.
Begging to differ with the findings is Norval D. Glenn, a professor in the department of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and an advisor to the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, a conservative think tank in New York City.
"In view of the fact that there are rather serious problems with the research on the children of same-sex parents," Glenn cautioned against misinterpreting a lack of evidence as a definitive indication that the children of same-sex households do as well as, or better than, those raised by opposite-sex parents.
Much more research is needed before questions concerning the impact of same-sex parenting can be safely answered, Glenn said, stressing that his remarks were his personal opinions. The nonpartisan Institute for American Values takes no official stance on single-sex parenting, he said.
For additional information on same-sex parenting and child welfare, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.