Same-Sex Parenting and High School Graduation Rates

By Christopher Rosik, PhD

A new study in the Review of Economics of the Household (Allen, 2013) is challenging the conventional wisdom of there being “no differences” in the range of outcomes for children who live in a household with same-sex parents compared to children who live with married opposite-sex parents. Whereas the research on same-sex parents to date has overwhelmingly been conducted on small samples of mostly lesbian couples, often by lesbian-identified researchers, Allen’s study employs a truly impressive 20% random sample of the 2006 Canadian census. At the time of this census, Canada’s same-sex couples had enjoyed all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and legal same-sex marriage since 2005.

Such a large and random sample that is able to distinguish same-sex couples is critical for a number of reasons. Allen observes that the literature on child development in same-sex households is lacking on several grounds:

First, the research is characterized by levels of advocacy, policy endorsement, and awareness of political consequences that is disproportionate with the strength and substance of the preliminary empirical findings. Second, the literature generally utilizes measures of child and family performance that are not easily verifiable by third party replication, which vary from one study to another in ways that make comparisons difficult, and which differ substantially from measures standardly used in other family studies. But most important, almost all of the literature on same-sex parenting (which almost always means lesbian parenting) is based on some combination of weak empirical designs, small biased convenience samples, “snowballing,” and low powered tests.

“Power” in this context is a statistical term for the ability of a test to identify actual differences. With small sample sizes, only the largest of differences can be detected and there is a very real risk that many significant differences will be missed. This creates a serious bias in the direction of the “no differences” conclusion. Allen’s review of 53 studies on same-sex parenting found almost all to be non-random designs and only two had sample sizes larger than 500. Many of these studies had samples sizes between 30-60. To place this issue in proper context, Allen noted that to properly test any hypothesis regarding gay parenting, a sample size of at least 800 is necessary. The author concludes, “A review of the same-sex parenting literature inevitably leads to the conclusion that it is a collection of exploratory studies.”

Allen’s use of the Canada census data allowed him to examine and control for many variables whose influences heretofore could not be clearly discerned. These include controls for parental marital status, family mobility (i.e., recent change in residence), child school attendance, and parental education. The study was also able to distinguish between gay and lesbian families and evaluate differences in gender between parents and children. This high level of analytical resolution constitutes a large step forward in the advancement of the same-sex parenting literature.

Overall, Allen emphasized three primary features of his sample: 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 heterosexual couple, single mother, single father, and gay male couple) are similar to each other and lie in between the married opposite-sex household and lesbian household extremes. Allen summarizes his findings on the effect of parent and child genders in same-sex households as follows:

Read here

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