Child Emotional Problems in Same-Sex Parent Families: The Discovery of Irreducible Difference The Rev. Dr. Paul Sullins The Catholic University of America Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) American Sociological Association Amicus Brief (2/23/13), Hollingsworth v. Perry, p. 3 “[T]he claim that same-sex parents produce less positive child outcomes than opposite-sex parents— either because such families lack both a male and female parent or because both parents are not the biological parents of their children—contradicts abundant social science research. … Whether a child is raised by same-sex or opposite-sex parents has no bearing on a child’s wellbeing.” Child Well-Being in Same-Sex Parent Families: Review of Research Prepared for American Sociological Association Amicus Brief Wendy D. Manning• Marshal Neal Fettro•Esther Lamidi Popul Res Policy Rev (2014) 33:485–502, Abstract “We conclude that there is a clear consensus in the social science literature indicating that American children living within same-sex parent households fare just as well as those children residing within different-sex parent households over a wide array of well-being measures: academic performance, cognitive development, social development, psychological health, early sexual activity, and substance abuse. Our assessment of the literature is based on credible and methodologically sound studies that compare well-being outcomes of children residing within same-sex and differentsex parent families. Differences that exist in child well-being are largely due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability.” “Our assessment of the literature is based on credible and methodologically sound studies that compare well-being outcomes of children residing within same-sex and different-sex parent families.” In a recent review of 49 same-sex parenting studies prior to 2010, 47 of which concluded that there were no differences in child well-being compared to opposite-sex families, Allen found that not a single study involved a representative sample large enough to distinguish differences if they existed. The mean sample size of children with same-sex parents was only 39 (Rosenfeld 2013:757), virtually guaranteeing Type II error (failing to detect a true effect) regarding population differences. Only four studies used a probability (random) sample at all; the largest of these included only 44 female same-sex families. The remainder based their “findings” on conveniently available or selected groups of participants, often recruited from biased, politically aware sources such as “LGBT events, bookstore and newspaper advertisements, word of mouth, networking and youth groups” (Allen 2013:640; see this article or Marks 2012 for comprehensive lists of study sample sizes and sources.). Drawing a probability sample of sufficient size to discern population differences with any statistical power, however, presents substantial difficulties for what Rosenfeld (2013:963) has colorfully termed the “needle-in-a-haystack” population of same-sex parents. According to the U.S. Census, same-sex couple households comprise less than 0.005 (five one-thousandths, or one-half of one percent) of U.S. households with children.[i] To attain a sample of 800 same-sex couples, which has been estimated to be the minimum sample size needed to make inferences for this population, would require drawing at least 160,000 cases, assuming a perfect response rate. Same-sex couples, moreover, tend to have somewhat lower than normal response rates, perhaps due to stigma, and female couples are more likely to be raising children than males, resulting in an extremely low yield for same-sex parents, and particularly gay male parents, in randomized population samples. The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) is the principle source of public health information about the United States population. Since 1957 the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics has annually interviewed between 35,000 and 40,000 households, collecting data on 75,000 to 100,000 individuals comprising a nationally representative sample of the civilian noninstitutionalized population of the United States. The present study examines combined 1997-2013 NHIS data, consisting of information on 1,598,006 persons, including 207,007 sample children. This sample included 2,751 same sex couples—2,304 cohabiting and 447 spousal—consisting of 1,387 male couples and 1,384 female couples; 582 couples—406 female and 176 male—had children under age 18 in the home. A more extensive battery of health questions, including the measures of emotional health used in this study, was completed for 512 children sampled, one per family, from the same-sex parenting families. The 0-10 scale used on NHIS (SDQ-EX) was calibrated against a sample with known clinical diagnoses by a team from the Harvard University School of Public Health, who discovered that a high score (6 or more) screened for 12-month clinical diagnoses, as determined by a more extensive clinical assessment, with a positive predictive value of 74%, negative predictive value of 98%, and overall concordance (AUC) of .80. (Kessler, Gruber, and Sampson 2006:55, Table 28) Child Emotional Problems (in percent) Comparing Opposite-Sex and Same-Sex Parent Families 25 21.2 19.4 20 17.8 17.1 15 10.3 10.5 10 7.5 6.9 5 0 Clinical Emotional Problems - SDQ or Direct Report Developmental Child received Disability (ADHD, medical treatment for Learning Disability or emotional problem Intellectual Disability) Children with OS Parents Child prescribed medication for emotional problem Children with SS Parents Source: National Health Interview Survey (CDC-NCHS) 1997-2013. (N=207,007). Data are a representative sample of all U.S. children. All contrasts shown are statistically significant at .01 OS/SS Differences in child emotional problems are unaffected by parent education and income family stability age, race and sex of child peer stigmatization or bullying parent emotional problems Most of these affect the overall risk of child emotional problems, but do not cause more problems in SS families than they do in OS families. One powerful factor explains: Biological Parentage Distinguishes children being raised by ◦ 1. Both biological parents, or ◦ 2. Only one of his/her biological parents (step or single parent family), or ◦ 3. Neither biological parent (i.e., adopted children) Including biological parentage in the statistical models explains all the OS/SS variation and renders all other causal factors insignificant. Bio Parentage is both necessary and sufficient to account for the higher rate of emotional problems observed among children with same-sex parents. Child Emotional Problems by Biological Parentage: NHIS 2001-2013 Child Emotional Problems by Biological Parentage Comparing Opposite-Sex and Same-Sex Parents: NHIS 2001-2013 35% 30% High SDQ or Serious Emotional Problem Children living with both bio parents have far fewer emotional problems… 25% 21.1% 19.1% 20% 14.6% 15% 10.3% 10% 5% 4.3% 0% 35% Opposite Sex Same Sex Both Bio Parents Opposite Sex Same Sex One Bio Parent Opposite Sex Same Sex No Bio Parents High SDQ or Serious Emotional Problem 30% 25% 21.3% 20% 15% 10.3% … but there are no such children in same-sex families. 10% 5% 4.3% 0% Both Bio Parents One Bio Parent No Bio Parents (They make up almost twothirds of children in opposite-sex families) Child Emotional Problems by Family Structure Including Same-Sex Spousal and Cohabiting Parents: NHIS 2001-2013 30% 25% High SDQ or Serious Emotional Problem Marriage or family structure alone has a mixed and weak effect, which does not clearly differentiate same-sex and oppositesex families. 20% 17.9% 15% 10.0% 10.8% 10% 8.2% 5% 7.9% 4.3% 0% Nuclear Other Married Cohabiting Single Parent Same-Sex Spousal Same-Sex Cohabiting The apparent effect of family structure is really due to the fact that … Almost all children with parents in an intact first marriage live with both bio parents “First, research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes than do children in intact families headed by two biological parents.” Kristin Anderson Moore, Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig, "Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do about It?", Child Trends Research Brief, June 2002 (Emphasis added) “Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents” regardless of the parents’ race, education and marital status, including remarriage. McLanahan, Sara, and Gary D. Sandefur. 1994. Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Harvard University Press. Page 1. 1 The higher risk of emotional problems for children in same-sex parent families has little or nothing to do with the quality of parenting, care, or other relational characteristics of those families. 2 •But if the strongest benefits for child well-being are conferred only on the biological offspring of both parents; •and since same-sex relationships cannot, at least at present, conceive a child that is the biological offspring of both partners, in the way that every child conceived by opposite-sex partners is such; • then same-sex partners, no matter how loving and committed, can never replicate the level of benevolence for child well-being that is possible for opposite-sex partners. 3 This defect, moreover, is an essential and permanent feature of same-sex relationships; it is part of their definition, an irreducible difference that cannot be amended or abrogated by improving the circumstances, stability, legal status or social acceptance of same-sex couples. The primary benefit of marriage for children may not be that it tends to present them with improved parents (more stable, financially affluent, etc., although it does do this), but that it presents them with their own parents. This is the case for 98% of children in nuclear families—which most successfully fulfill the formal civil premise of marriage, that is, lifelong and exclusive partner commitment—compared to less than half of children in any other family category, and no children in same-sex families. Whether or not same-sex families attain the legal right, as opposite-sex couples now have, to solemnize their relationship in civil marriage, the two family forms will continue to have fundamentally different, even contrasting, effects on the biological component of child well-being, to the relative detriment of children in same-sex families. Functionally, opposite-sex marriage is a social practice that, as much as possible, ensures to children the joint care of both biological parents, with the attendant benefits that brings; same-sex marriage ensures the opposite.