The Corner

Culture

Do Children of Same-Sex Parents Suffer from Higher Rates of Depression, Obesity, and Suicidal Ideation?

Of all the battles over same-sex relationships, fewer are more contentious (or harder to resolve) than the battle over same-sex parenting. The phenomenon is new enough and rare enough that it’s hard to obtain large enough sample sizes or to conduct truly longitudinal studies. Moreover, the entire area of inquiry is so fraught with ideological danger that it’s hard even to conduct a study that doesn’t guarantee a favored outcome. (My favorite example is LGBT advocacy group–funded study that actively recruited its participants from lesbian bookstores and found — surprise, surprise — that children of lesbian parents had fewer behavioral problems.)

Well, a new study — collecting longitudinal data not through selective recruitment but from the National Institutes of Health — suggests that children of same-sex parents suffered from higher rates of depression over time, along with higher rates of obesity and suicidal ideation. The numbers are sobering:

As Mark Regnerus indicates, some caveats are in order:

This study is not above reproach. No study is. And I dare say Sullins’s recent evaluations of National Health Information Survey data provided a more robust evaluation of the “no differences” thesis than this one of the Add Health. A key limitation here is sample size. There are only twenty confident cases of respondents with same-sex parents in this large data collection project. This makes the same-sex household estimates displayed in the graph imprecise, but it does nothing to undermine the significance of the differences between groups. Part of the reason for the small sample has to do with the era in which the data collection first began. Same-sex households were very unusual, and the Add Health (as well as the New Family Structures Study) captures that. I have been quick to criticize use of such small-N studies in the past, and I’m not about to shift blindly into high praise here just because the results reinforce what I found in the NFSS. But the sample size issue is not the author’s fault. In fact, Sullins discerned that over half of the cases of same-sex households used in previous Add Health studies that declared “no differences” were households in which an opposite-sex parent was still involved, and elected to drop them from his analyses. It mattered.

What does this all mean? Basically, that the science isn’t settled. The ideologically fashionable “no differences” thesis isn’t settled, but neither is the opposite conclusion. It will take more time and larger studies to reach any definitive conclusions about the children of same-sex parents. But one thing we do know — if the weight of evidence does establish that children of same-sex parents have worse outcomes than the children of intact mother-father households, the Left’s response will be the same as it was when we “discovered” that it’s worse for kids to be raised by single parents. It won’t reconsider any of its moral judgments. Instead, it will demand that the government fill the gaps. Just ask Julia.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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