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.

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Posted by Rebecca Elizabeth

9 Comments

  1. A Study Revisited (US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study …: A few weeks ago I highlighted what proved to… http://bit.ly/a11wje

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  2. I think we should go back to elementary stats here, what is the null hypothesis? The null hypothesis is the opposite of what you seek to prove. For example, you have a new drug that you hope lowers the risk of heart attacks. 100 people get the drug and 100 don’t. The null hypothesis is that the drug does nothing, therefore the 100 who get the drug should look just like the 100 who don’t. What if the group who gets the drug has slightly fewer heart attacks than those that don’t? Well there’s a big set of statistical tools designed to tell you whether that different is important enough to signal a different, whether you can reject the null hypothesis. If the number of heart attacks is only 1% less, that may, at a 95% confidence interval, just be randomness rather than an indication that the drug works.

    Let’s assume having lesbian parents does something bad to kids. The null hypothesis would be that having lesbian parents is no different. So all you have to do is take a sample of lesbian parents and see what rate their kids are ‘bad’. If the null hypothesis is false, their rate of ‘badness’ will be higher in some statistically relevant way…..just like those taking the drug will have a lower rate of heart attacks.

    Now here’s the thing, if there’s a big difference none of the nit picking you will do will make a difference. Now unlike a drug, social studies like this aren’t done in a perfect laboratory. If you get your sample of lesbian couples outside a fertility clinic, you are automatically getting certain economic traits (stable enough to use a clinic, enough free funds to pay for it etc.) that are different from the general population. Likewise there’s no blood test for a ‘bad kid’. There’s standardized questions you can ask or you can have psychologists evaluate each kid….but if you’re following kids for 20 years you’re going to have real problems with cost and objectivity.

    So here’s the thing, the study was objective and the evidence is that the null hypothesis cannot be rejected (i.e. that lesbian parents are no different). Now you can nit pick. Maybe the lesbian parents were shaping their answers to sway the test (over twenty years though? and they knew how to sway the answers *just enough* to look normal or a bit better than normal rather than outstanding????) Or maybe the lesbian parents were better off than the average heterosexual parents so therefore have ‘better kids’ than average….

    But after all this nitpicking, what this study does indicate is that even if the null hypothesis is false….if lesbian parents are bad in some way rather than no different….the difference is not very big or else it would have been picked up. At least as far as lesbians are concerned, there’s really no evidence to deny legal custody.

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  3. Rebecca: Thanks for bringing this study to our attention and scrutinizing its assumptions, which the mass media failed to do. The value of this study entirely depends on what’s meant by “psychologically happy and high functioning children.” If that consists of (1) disciplinary methods that favor “verbal-limit setting” to corporal punishment and (2) parental styles that are more “controlled, sensitive, and involved” rather than powerfully assertive, then I’m forced to conclude that the researchers have an impoverished view of being psychologically happy and high functioning. Dr. James Dobson, among other Christian experts on the family, would have a different (and superior) view about what it means to have well-adjusted children. Frankly, I’m appalled by this study’s hostility toward male parents and reproductive biology.

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  4. A Study Revisited (US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study …: A few weeks ago I highlighted what proved to… http://bit.ly/a11wje

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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  5. I think parents who have planned and are fully invested is the key.

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  6. Casey,

    True but most gay parents would have to plan and invest in having kids. Except for gays who are trying to do a heterosexual relationship, this would seem to be an advantage gays have as parents over heterosexuals who, as Sarah Palin’s daughter and her sometimes boyfriend, remind us, easily end up having unplanned pregnancies they aren’t ‘fully invested in’.

    Again I say look at what the null hypothesis should be. In a drug analogy, it’s that giving kids lesbian parents supposedly does something bad (which we have to agree on an objective measure). Therefore the null hypothesis is that there’s no difference. If the null hypothesis is not rejected, then the ‘drug’ is rejected.

    Now if someone were proposing replacing heterosexual parents with lesbian ones, we’d have a different null hypothesis and a different type of requirement to establish that lesbian parents are not only equal but superior. But this is not being proposed, for no other reason than there simply are no where near as many lesbian couples as heterosexual ones.

    Christopher,

    Again your reasoning is post hoc which means you can cherry pick your standards. The researchers theorized why they were seeing the results they were seeing, the actual measure though is well accepted and chosen before the results were known. In that they were not hostile to either male parents, Christian families or whatnot. I don’t doubt for a moment if the study had shown the children were performing worse on a standardized assessment of being well-adjusted you would not have any objection to the standardized questionnaire. I’m unaware of any standardized test that Dobson has that can measure outcomes in the way you want. You are basically saying an ‘unbiased study’ would collect the data and then figure out the goal posts. You have to figure out the goal posts before you do the study.

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  7. Christof Meyer July 7, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Boonton, I think your critique of Christopher’s critique is not effective. You are attacking a position that he didn’t take – with regards to the negative side-effects of the lesbian parenting. He isn’t moving the goal posts, he simply didn’t sign up for the “objective standards” that you and the author’s of the study find acceptable.

    By the way, kudos to you for being persistent, it really is a service to your intellect that you remain so diligent in representing your views in a forum that is certainly not uniformly supportive.

    Anyway, the question remains, how do you know if parents did a good job? One way is to ask the parents how their kids perform in school. Another way is to check things like drop-out rates, grades in school, etc. Perhaps another way is a to use some sort of standard tool to evaluate the “pschologically high-functioning” status of the kids. Billy Graham might use a single theological question to determine if the parents did a good job: “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” Dr. Dobson might ask: “Does the child rightly acknowledge the relationship between boundary-setting and love?”…

    You already said this yourself, however, “You have to figure out the goal posts before you do the study” – so I think we’re in agreement. This study proved that children raised by Lesbian parents score more highly than normal children on a very specific test – the Child Behavior Checklist.

    My analysis, as a professing Christian, is that this data is interesting but uncompelling. My primary job as a (soon-to-be) Christian parent is not to raise up kids who get good grades, play well with others, or exhibit high self-esteem. My primary responsibility is to help my child connect with reality, and develop tools for accessing the power, significance, and implications of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have never maintained that Christianity will lead to more health, happiness, or emotional fortitude than other “good” life paths so I would not be surprised to learn that wealthy, stable, Lesbian women can raise healthy, happy, children. What I have maintained, is that children who are raised by loving Christian parents have a better chance to experience the “abundant life” through Jesus in a way that does not drain the parents’ ‘joie de vivre than people who try to raise their children in their own strength. But how would we test for such a thing? I’m sure it’s possible, however, until we answer this question we will continue talking past each other – as we are aiming at entirely different teleological goalposts.

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  8. Meyer

    Boonton, I think your critique of Christopher’s critique is not effective. You are attacking a position that he didn’t take – with regards to the negative side-effects of the lesbian parenting. He isn’t moving the goal posts, he simply didn’t sign up for the “objective standards” that you and the author’s of the study find acceptable.

    Perhaps but if you don’t want to use objective standards there’s not much point in doing a study to begin with. But then I don’t think Christopher objects to using objective standards. Again if the children had performed worse on the objective measure I doubt Christopher would be trashing the study.

    By the way, kudos to you for being persistent, it really is a service to your intellect that you remain so diligent in representing your views in a forum that is certainly not uniformly supportive.

    Thanks, I like a challenge and hopefully I’m returning the favor.

    Anyway, the question remains, how do you know if parents did a good job? …

    True but if your only interest is Christianity there really isn’t much out there in terms of objectivity. You are just guessing that people with lesbian parents are less likely to become Christians. We have plenty of ancedotes of the reverse situation (Phylis Schlafey’s son, Alan Keye’s daughter). I believe I recall reading that Karl Rove’s father is gay, although I don’t know how much of a Christian Karl Rove is nor if his father was out when he was raising him or if he came out when his son was an adult.

    But how would we test for such a thing? I’m sure it’s possible, however, until we answer this question we will continue talking past each other – as we are aiming at entirely different teleological goalposts.

    I suppose we could just ask. You can question people’s parents for both their stated religious beliefs and related activities. Then question the individual people and see what correlations there are. I know there’s been studies of the influence a parents religion has on their children, I don’t know if its been reported for gay parents but we do have a population of adults who were raised by gay parents so I don’t see why it couldn’t be objectively studied.

    I know that there’s a strong correlation between a parent’s religions and their child’s but there’s also very common stories of religious rebellion that follow certain patterns. Devoute parents raising children who are lackadasical and children who out-devout their parents. There also seem to be some patterns of religious switching that are more common than others. For example, Zen Buddhism seems to attract a lot of curious Catholics and Jews….but few Jews seem to jump to, Baptists realtive to jumping to Catholicism. There’s probably a very rich and interesting matrix a bright researcher can develop by looking at how Americans change and modify their religion over time.

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  9. […] authors of the study. This suggests that there is a bias towards woman and against men as parents. A Study Revisited (US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study) | Mere Orthodoxy Good grief… can't you do any better than that? How about one with better methodology and using […]

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