A few weeks ago I highlighted what proved to be some controversial criticisms (https://mereorthodoxy.com/?p=3169 ) given by Dr. Roback-Morse of a recent study on the psychological health of children raised in lesbian homes (US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Health of 17-year-old Adolescence http://www.nllfs.org/publications/pdf/peds.2009-3153v1.pdf). In response to the controversy I carefully read through the study to determine the truth of the claims that I gave and that others responded with. What I found was quite illuminating.
First, the authors themselves acknowledge three limitations of their study: (1. The sample was nonrandom (2. The assessments (Child Behavior Checklists) given by the mothers did not have independent verification (3. The study did not account for a difference in socioeconomic status between the lesbian homes and regular heterosexual families. Here’s a quote directly from the study that states and describes these limitations,
“This study has several limitations. First, it has a nonrandom sample…A second limitation is that the data did not include the Achenbach Youth Self-Report or Teacher’s Report Form. A more comprehensive assessment would have included reports from all 3 sources. A final limitation is that although the NLLFS (National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study) and the normative samples are similar in socioeconomic status, they are neither matched not controlled for race/ethnicity or region of residence.”
Thus, in regard to the first limitation, though the study garnered couples from where it could find them, the authors themselves acknowledge that it was by no means a random selection, which though it does not derail the entire study, does mitigate somewhat the accuracy of the results.
Second, though the CBC (child behavior checklist) is a “viable tool for assessing a child’s behavior,” the point is that there was no independent verification of the assessment which again mitigates the accuracy of the study’s findings.
Finally, the authors note that they did not account for the difference in socioeconomic status between the NLLFS and the normative sample. As one commentator noted, “if the lesbian couples are older, more secure, more well off then you need to compare that not to the entire population of heterosexual couples but the sub-population who can most closely fit that demographic.” The study did not do this; it acknowledges that. We can safely assume then that the results will be in favor of the lesbian couples simply by reason of high socioeconomic status.
Given these limitations it is astonishing to me that the study still makes this conclusion, “Our findings show that adolescents who have been raised since birth in planned lesbian families demonstrate healthy psychological adjustment and thus provide no justification for restricting access to reproductive technologies or child custody on the basis of the sexual orientation of the parents.” It seems to me that a little more caution is in order given the limitations of the study as the author’s themselves note.
As for assumptions, the study attributes some of the psychological health of children raised in lesbian homes to less physical punishment and more “verbal limit-setting,” How does this relate to men vs. women as better parents? Here is the quote from the study, “The lower levels of externalizing problem behavior among NLLFS adolescents may be explained by the disciplinary styles used in lesbian mother households. The NLLFS mothers reported using verbal limit-setting more often with their children. Other studies have found that lesbian mothers use less corporal punishment and less power assertion than heterosexual fathers. Growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustments.” The authors do not confine their comments to assertive, abusive fathers, but simply assume that heterosexual fathers are assertive, uninvolved and perhaps abusive. By contract lesbian mothers are controlled, sensitive and involved according to the authors of the study. This suggests that there is a bias towards woman and against men as parents.
The other assumption, “that the means for having a child through artificial reproductive technology is better than through sex because the child will always be wanted and therefore better cared for in the latter case,” is suggested here, “The NLLFS adolescents demonstrated higher levels of social, school/academic, and total competence than gender-matched normative samples of American teenagers. These findings may be explained in part by the NLLFS mother’s commitment even before their offspring were born to be fully engaged in the process of parenting. During pregnancy, the prospective mothers took classes and formed support groups to learn about childrearing. They were actively involved in the education of their children and aspired to remain close to them, however unique their interests, orientations and preferences may be.” According to the authors of the study, the children were wanted and were therefore better cared for and loved. Throughout the study the offspring are referred to as “planned” indicating the importance and value the authors place on knowing that you’ll have a child. Now granted, in the modern world there are many ways that a pregnancy can be either planned or avoided, ART being a method that both heterosexual and lesbian couples can use, but the force of this quote seems to be that however you plan your pregnancies, they ought to be planned in order for the children to really be wanted and therefore cared for.
Check out the study if you get a chance. It’s a fascinating and fairly comprehensible read. It will take you half and hour at most (I’m a slow reader) and will be well worth the time in the end.