Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Lesbian Family Study- A Quick Review

It's been entertaining to see "marriage defenders" scramble to try to discredit the recent study showing children of lesbian parents have better outcomes than other children. The findings throw a wrench in their "common sense" ideology wherein there is no way on earth two same-sex parents could be good for kids.

Of course, studies show that 99% of those declaring this study to be flawed have not actually read this study, which can be found quite easily on the world wide web, but since when has that ever stopped folks from declaring things they know nothing about to be an affront to good ol' common sense and, therefore, wrong?

Tomorrow, I will delve into one such ignorant internet "smackdown" of this study. But first, I'd like to provide a summary of it. For starters, it is called the "US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolscents," and it was published online in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics on June 7, 2010. From the abstract, the objective of the study was to:

"...document the psychological adjustment of adolescents who were conceived through donor insemination by lesbian mothers who enrolled before these offspring were born in the largest, longest running, prospective, longitudinal study of same-sex–parented families."

154 prospective mothers volunteered to participate, and 78 children were interviewed. Most of the mothers in the lesbian group (93%) and the heterosexual comparison group (67.7%) were white, whereas those in the lesbian group tended to be in lower socio-economic classes as the heterosexual comparison group (24.7% of lesbian parents were in "upper middle or upper" class compared to 43.9% of heterosexual parents). In addition, the lesbian mothers resided in 3 major urban areas, while the heterosexual parents resided in a mix of urban and rural areas.

The mothers were interviewed and answered questionnaires at several different points in the lives of their children, and the children themselves were interviewed at age 10 and answered a questionnaire at age 17. The questionnaires completed by the parents were of four scales where the parent was asked to rate their child's behavior in the areas of activities, social, school/academic, and total competence. The children answered questions related to the stigma of having lesbian mothers.

The results were that the "17-year-old [National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study] girls and boys were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than the comparison group." Within the group of children raised by lesbian parents, no significant differences were found based on donor status, separation of the parents, and their own perception of stigma. Although, when the parent reported that their children had experienced stigma, analyses showed significantly higher behavioral problem scores.

In the Discussion section of the study, the researchers posit several explanations for these outcomes. For one, as opposed to those who accidentally or unintentionally end up pregnant, those who undergo donor insemination demonstrate "a commitment even before their offspring were born to be fully engaged in the process of parenting." Secondly, the mothers in the study used "verbal limit-setting" more often, which correlates with other studies finding that lesbian parents use less corporal punishment and "power assertion," which is "associated with healthier psychological adjustment."

The acknowledged limitations of the study include that it was a nonrandom sample, due to the difficulty of recruiting the somewhat hidden population of lesbians in the 1980s. Two, the comparison data did not include youth self-reporting data or teacher's self-reporting data, which would have made for a "more comprehensive assessment." Three, although the lesbian families and heterosexual families "are similar in socioeconomic status, they are neither matched nor controlled for race/ethnicity or region of residence."

The study ends by acknowledging the grants that funded this research, which is standard. While those opposed to LGBT rights have already concluded without reading the study that the study's funding sources "prove" that the study is biased, the researchers note:

"Funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study; the management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript."

While this statement alone doesn't, of course, prove that the study is not biased, the onus is on those who claim bias to demonstrate flaws and bias within the study. Just saying that the study is wrong because it doesn't comport with "common sense" is not an intelligent rebuttal.

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