released a new study comparing two-parent, same-gender headed
families with two-parent, different-gender headed families. Their
study, which challenges the presumed superiority of mom-dad
partnerships in raising kids, appears in the February 2010 issue of
the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Stacey and Biblarz were curious why social science research
comparing two-parent, different-gender families to single-parent
families — research that typically shows better outcomes for kids
raised by two parents — is so often used to assume that
two-parent, different-gender parent couples are inherently better
than same-gender parent couples, too. Isn’t is more likely the
case, the researches asked, that the number of parents are making
the difference here?
Their findings are consistent with that hypothesis, showing far
greater similarities than differences in the parenting abilities,
styles, and outcomes of two-parent, different-gender and
two-parent, same-gender headed families. Though their current study
doesn’t address families with more than two primary caregivers,
Stacey and Biblarz’s research does pose interesting questions:
- If the number of primary caregivers is a big piece of the
puzzle, what differences exist between single-parent headed
families with little to no caregiver support and families with
grandparents as primary or secondary caregivers, or other
responsible adults who are active in children’s lives?
- And if two parents are generally better than one, so to speak,
what about three or four? Given the increasing number of blended
families, one wonders about the effects of multiple parents in
For now, Stacey and Biblarz’s work suffices to put to rest tired
arguments being made about LGBT people’s ability to parent. Of
course, we already know this through our life’s experiences, but in
legislatures and courtrooms across America, it never hurts to have
sound scholarship backing you up. The Family Equality Council will
continue its work supporting this kind of research and making sure
legislators and the media are aware that it exists, and that unlike
the pseudo-science pushed by the right wing demagogues, this
research is peer-reviewed, widely respected, and will stand the
test of time.
Do Children Need Both a Mother and a Father?
New Study Examines If the Gender of Parents Matter
LOS ANGELES-January 21, 2010–The
presumption that children need both a mother and a father is
widespread. It has been used by proponents of Proposition 8 to
argue against same-sex marriage and to uphold a ban on same-sex
On the other end of the political spectrum, Barack Obama endorsed
the vital role of fathers in a 2008 speech: “Of all the rocks upon
which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the
most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how
critical every father is to that foundation.”
The lead article in the February issue of Journal of Marriage
and Family challenges the idea that “fatherless” children are
necessarily at a disadvantage or that men provide a different,
indispensable set of parenting skills than women.
“Significant policy decisions have been swayed by the misconception
across party lines that children need both a mother and a father.
Yet, there is almost no social science research to support this
claim. One problem is that proponents of this view routinely ignore
research on same-gender parents,” said sociologist Timothy Biblarz
of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Extending their prior work on gender and family, Biblarz and Judith
Stacey of NYU analyzed relevant studies about parenting, including
available research on single-mother and single-father households,
gay male parents and lesbian parents. “That a child needs a male
parent and a female parent is so taken for granted that people are
uncritical,” Stacey said.
In their analysis, the researchers found no evidence of
gender-based parenting abilities, with the “partial exception of
lactation,” noting that very little about the gender of the parent
has significance for children’s psychological adjustment and social
As the researchers write: “The social science research that is
routinely cited does not actually speak to the questions of whether
or not children need both a mother and a father at home. Instead
proponents generally cite research that compares [heterosexual
two-parent] families with single parents, thus conflating the
number with the gender of parents.”
Indeed, there are far more similarities than differences among
children of lesbian and heterosexual parents, according to the
study. On average, two mothers tended to play with their children
more, were less likely to use physical discipline, and were less
likely to raise children with chauvinistic attitudes. Studies of
gay male families are still limited.
However, like two heterosexual parents, new parenthood among
lesbians increased stress and conflict, exacerbated by general lack
of legal recognition of commitment. Also, lesbian biological
mothers typically assumed greater caregiving responsibility than
their partners, reflecting inequities among heterosexual
“The bottom line is that the science shows that children raised by
two same-gender parents do as well on average as children raised by
two different-gender parents. This is obviously inconsistent with
the widespread claim that children must be raised by a mother and a
father to do well,” Biblarz said.
Stacey concluded: “The family type that is best for children is one
that has responsible, committed, stable parenting. Two parents are,
on average, better than one, but one really good parent is better
than two not-so-good ones. The gender of parents only matters in
ways that don’t matter.”
This study is published in the February 2010 issue of the
Journal of Marriage and Family. Media wishing to receive a
PDF of this article may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To request a copy of the article or to arrange an interview with a
either Timothy Biblarz or Judith Stacey, please contact Suzanne Wu
(Biblarz), James Devitt at email@example.com (Stacey), or Bethany
Carland-Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Journal: For more than 70 years,
Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF) has been a leading
research journal in the family field. JMF features original
research and theory, research interpretation and reviews, and
critical discussion concerning all aspects of marriage, other forms
of close relationships, and families..
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