Study: children of same-sex couples do less well than those of married couples

A family praying and reading the Bible
A family praying and reading the Bible

The Public Discourse reports on a recent study out of Canada.


A new academic study based on the Canadian census suggests that a married mom and dad matter for children. Children of same-sex coupled households do not fare as well.

There is a new and significant piece of evidence in the social science debate about gay parenting and the unique contributions that mothers and fathers make to their children’s flourishing. A study published last week in the journal Review of the Economics of the Household—analyzing data from a very large, population-based sample—reveals that the children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to have graduated from high school as the children of married, opposite-sex couples. And gender matters, too: girls are more apt to struggle than boys, with daughters of gay parents displaying dramatically low graduation rates.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.

While in the US Census same-sex households have to be guessed at based on the gender and number of self-reported heads-of-household, young adults in the Canadian census were asked, “Are you the child of a male or female same-sex married or common law couple?” While study author and economist Douglas Allen noted that very many children in Canada who live with a gay or lesbian parent are actually living with a single mother—a finding consonant with that detected in the 2012 New Family Structures Study—he was able to isolate and analyze hundreds of children living with a gay or lesbian couple (either married or in a “common law” relationship akin to cohabitation).

So the study is able to compare—side by side—the young-adult children of same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, as well as children growing up in single-parent homes and other types of households. Three key findings stood out to Allen:

children of married opposite-sex families have a high graduation rate compared to the others; children of lesbian families have a very low graduation rate compared to the others; and the other four types [common law, gay, single mother, single father] are similar to each other and lie in between the married/lesbian extremes.

Employing regression models and series of control variables, Allen concludes that the substandard performance cannot be attributed to lower school attendance or the more modest education of gay or lesbian parents. Indeed, same-sex parents were characterized by higher levels of education, and their children were more likely to be enrolled in school than even those of married, opposite-sex couples. And yet their children are notably more likely to lag in finishing their own schooling.

[…]The truly unique aspect of Allen’s study, however, may be its ability to distinguish gender-specific effects of same-sex households on children. He writes:

the particular gender mix of a same-sex household has a dramatic difference in the association with child graduation. Consider the case of girls. . . . Regardless of the controls and whether or not girls are currently living in a gay or lesbian household, the odds of graduating from high school are considerably lower than any other household type. Indeed, girls living in gay households are only 15 percent as likely to graduate compared to girls from opposite sex married homes.

Thus although the children of same-sex couples fare worse overall, the disparity is unequally shared, but is instead based on the combination of the gender of child and gender of parents. Boys fare better—that is, they’re more likely to have finished high school—in gay households than in lesbian households. For girls, the opposite is true. Thus the study undermines not only claims about “no differences” but also assertions that moms and dads are interchangeable. They’re not.

With a little digging, I found the abstract of the study:

Almost all studies of same-sex parenting have concluded there is “no difference” in a range of outcome measures for children who live in a household with same-sex parents compared to children living with married opposite-sex parents. Recently, some work based on the US census has suggested otherwise, but those studies have considerable drawbacks. Here, a 20% sample of the 2006 Canada census is used to identify self-reported children living with same-sex parents, and to examine the association of household type with children’s high school graduation rates. This large random sample allows for control of parental marital status, distinguishes between gay and lesbian families, and is large enough to evaluate differences in gender between parents and children. Children living with gay and lesbian families in 2006 were about 65 % as likely to graduate compared to children living in opposite sex marriage families. Daughters of same-sex parents do considerably worse than sons.

The author of the study is a professor of economics at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. His PhD in economics is from the University of Washington. A previous study had shown that gay relationships typically have far more instability (they last for more shorter times). That’s not good for children either. Another study featured in the Atlantic talked about how gay relationships have much higher rates of domestic violence. That’s not good for children either. So we have three reasons to think that normalizing gay relationships as “marriage” would not be good for children.

The reason I am posting this is because I want people to understand why social conservatives like me propose these laws defining and promoting marriage. We do favor natural marriage for the same reason that we oppose no-fault divorce, and for the same reason why we oppose welfare for single mothers (it encourages single motherhood). We don’t want to encourage people to deprive children of their mother or their father. We look at the research, and we decide that children need their mother and father. Given the choice between the needs of the child and restraining the freedom of the adults, we prefer the child’s need for her mother and father. It’s not just arbitrary rules, there is a reason behind the rules.

But children are not commodities. They have certain needs right out of the box. Adults should NOT be thinking about how to duct-tape a child onto any old relationship that doesn’t offer the same safety and stability that opposite sex marriage offers. We should be passing laws to strengthen marriage in order to protect children, not to weaken it. Libertarians don’t want to do that, because they want adults to be free to do as they please, at the expense of children.  Libertarians think that the adults should be able to negotiate private contracts and have no obligations to any children who are present, or who may be present later.

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9 thoughts on “Study: children of same-sex couples do less well than those of married couples”

  1. You’re spot on on this one, although many will come after you for spelling out the unflattering truth! I’m not against two adults having a relationship as they please, but when children are involved, it’s a whole different story, for both gay and straight couples! Two same sex parents cannot provide a child with the perspective of the opposite sex, something needed to raise a well rounded son or daughter. Sons need mothers to learn how to treat women, and choose who they want their wife to be like once they marry, ideally modeled by a virtuous lady of a mother. Daughters of course, need strong father figures to guide them in how men ought to treat them, and what men ought to expect in return of a lady. If the parents are the opposite sex of their child, then they also cannot provide the “man to man” perspective for a son, or mother-daughter perspective for a daughter to develop their children’s developing manhood or womanhood from one of their own sex as well. I’m not anti-gay relationships between adults, but two of the same sex parent is like having a single parent in that regard, which I am against. You’re spot on to say that the interests of emotionally and mentally healthy well rounded children should take precedence over adults’ relationship whims! It’s so sad our society devalues children so much, their voices, heir interests, and their needs 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Remedying this would require people to apply the formerly common Christian principle of “putting others first,” self sacrifice. Our society has moved to “love yourself”and promote yourself. In order to continue civilization, we must change.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Does anyone know why they compared only married opposite-sex couples when the same-sex couples could be either married or just living together? Given the author said same-sex couples have had the right to marry since 2005, and children in marriages do better than others, I would think a comparison using couples with the same marital status would be a better “side by side” – or, also include the statistics for same-sex couples living together.

    Maybe I missed it somewhere but it seems like marital status, in itself, is a big variable. If someone can point me to that data, I would appreciate it. Thanks.


    1. Yes, although the gay rights lobby pushed very hard for same-sex marriage, very very few of them married after the, especially men. The goal wasn’t to actually marry, but just to get equality in principle with heterosexual couples.

      The rate of same-sex couples marrying is 10%, and keep in mind that many of those arrangements are open relationships or polyamory, especially with men.

      41% of gay men are in “open relationships”.

      The bottom line is that there just aren’t enough gay married couples to use in a study.


      1. Very interesting, WK. Thank you!

        And thank you also for your site, which is a great source of information and clear thought.


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