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Study: Kids of Lesbian Parents Are Well-Adjusted

Researchers Say Children of Lesbian Parents Have Fewer Behavior Problems
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 7, 2010 -- Children raised by lesbian parents develop into psychologically healthy teens and have fewer behavior problems than their peers, according to the latest report on a long-running study that began in 1986.

''Contrary to assertions from people opposed to same-sex parenting, we found that the 17-year-olds scored higher in psychological adjustment in areas of competency and lower in problem behaviors than the normative age-matched sample of kids raised in traditional families with a mom and a dad," says researcher Nanette Gartrell, MD, the Williams distinguished scholar at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law.

Gartrell's report, published in Pediatrics, is the latest in a series from the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), which enrolled 154 prospective lesbian mothers between 1986 and 1992. Researchers followed them and their children as they conceived through donor insemination. Most (140) were either birth mothers or co-mothers, but 14 were single moms from the start.

The retention rate of the study is high, with 93% of the original participants, or 78 families, still enrolled, Gartrell says.

More than 270,000 U.S. children were living in households headed by same-sex couples in 2005, according to Gartrell, and nearly twice that number had a single gay or lesbian parent.

For the latest report, Gartrell and her colleague, Henny Bos, PhD, of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, looked at 78 teens from 77 families; one family did not complete all the survey data.

The teens, average age 17, completed questionnaires. The moms were interviewed and completed lengthy checklists about their children's activities, social life, school and academic performance, and overall competence.

The researchers compared the results of the participants with those from a comparison group of 93 teens, also average age of 17, from another research sample that included maternal reports on the same topics.

The teens raised by lesbian parents were rated higher in social, school, academic, and total competence, Gartrell found, while they were rated lower than the peers in the comparison group in engaging in problem behaviors such as rule-breaking and aggression.

No differences were found among the teens raised by lesbian parents who were conceived by a known donor, as yet unknown donor, or permanently unknown donor, Gartrell found, or among those whose mothers were still together and those who had split up.

When interviewed for this report in May 2009, 56% of the mothers who were co-parents when the child was born were now split up. But most of those, 71.4%, shared custody.

Parent Profile

How to explain the good results? "These are not accidental children," Gartrell tells WebMD.

The babies, she notes, were all planned, all conceived through donor insemination. "The moms tended to be older and attended parenting classes. They were very involved in the process of education [for their children]."

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