Student Well-Being

Children of Same-Sex Parents: Happy and Healthy, But Stigma Remains

By Ross Brenneman — July 10, 2014 3 min read
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Children of same-sex parents are better-behaved, healthier, and have more cohesive families compared to children of heterosexual couples, according to a new study out of the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Researchers used survey data from 315 parents of 500 children regarding general measures of health, and concluded that same-sex children do better overall. Despite that positive news for children of same-sex couples, such parents do report lingering stigma that can be a detriment to health.

The study helps confirm the position of a vast swath of researchers and scientists emphasizing the ability of same-sex couples to raise a healthy, happy child, and the academic benefits of that are immediately clear: Research continually shows that students with better social-emotional health perform better academically.

The study uses only a small sample size, because Australia doesn’t have quite the same-sex population to draw from as the United States, but it’s nevertheless the largest study of its kind internationally. Australia currently has an estimated 33,000 same-sex households, with 6,120 children living in such homes. The U.S., according to 2010 census data, has 594,000 same-sex couple households, of which 16 percent—or about 95,000—have children.

As the study also suggests, the advantage that children of same-sex couples have trends neatly with wealth: Same-sex couples on average tend to be better off financially than opposite-sex couples. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that unmarried same-sex couples make roughly $45,000 more annually than unmarried opposite-sex couples, and $14,000 more annually than married opposite-sex couples. (There isn’t a lot of data on married same-sex couples yet, because, ya know.)

The LGBT community has made serious in-roads in the United States over the last decade both culturally and legally in regard to family creation. Currently, 19 states now allow same-sex marriage, and 10 states are currently wrapped up in court cases that could overturn laws against same-sex marriage. In general, the U.S. has seen positive trends toward acceptance of the LGBT community and the issues that they face, including adoption.

But it’s clearly not all rosy, as the study says:

Our findings support and strengthen the idea that stigma related to parental sexual orientation is associated with a negative impact on child mental and emotional well-being.

While there are some obvious sources of stigma, plenty of the stigma children face comes from schools, too, where students may need to know they can find support when they need it. In a March 2014 BuzzFeed discussion, Claire Pires, an intern, discusses being in school while having same-sex parents:

A pivotal moment happened in seventh grade when my school had its first-ever gay pride assembly. A teacher asked me to speak and at first I refused. I had gotten so good at lying to everyone about [my mother’s partner] Kathy.

Peter DeWitt writes on Finding Common Ground that schools need to be welcoming to gay students, but his words would seem just as applicable to children of gay couples:

The adults who work in schools are legally obligated to protect students and if they do not work on their own comfort level with this issue, it will only get worse. LGBT students are not going anywhere and they want acceptance. Many students no longer feel the need to conform, and they shouldn’t be beaten for it.

But at least the Australian study shows that, stigma notwithstanding, the kids of same-sex children are all right. To drive the point home, here are some adorable children talking about having same-sex parents:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.