Children who grow up in same-sex parented households may face a significantly higher risk of depression later in life.
That’s the conclusion of a study published a few weeks ago, without fanfare, in the open-access journal Depression Research and Treatment. The study found that young adults who had grown up with same-sex parents were more than twice as likely to be depressed as those raised by a mother and a father.
The findings add to a growing body of research examining the effects of homosexual family structures. Gay parenting is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the available data on such families has been sparse.
The new study, “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents,” claims to be the first to “examine children raised by same-sex parents into early adulthood.” It uses survey data that followed adolescents over a period of 13 years.
“We know that a lot of distressing experiences that children have growing up don’t really begin to manifest until they enter their 20s and start to form their own families,” said D. Paul Sullins, a sociologist at The Catholic University of America and the author of the study. (The Catholic University of America also funded the research.)
Sullins’ study found that although only 18 percent of children in same-sex households reported feeling symptoms of depression as adolescents (about the same rate as children with opposite-sex parents), about half of same-sex-parented children had become depressed after reaching the age of about 28. By comparison, only about one-fifth of children of opposite-sex parents were depressed in adulthood.
The high rate of depression was linked to corresponding higher rates of obesity, feelings of stigma, and a sense of emotional distance from parents among children in same-sex-parented households.
For example, the study found that 72 percent of children from households parented by same-sex couples were obese as adults, compared to just 37 percent of adults from traditional households.
Adults who grew up in same-sex-parented households were also more likely to report having recently thought seriously about committing suicide (30 percent, compared to 7 percent of adults with opposite-sex parents), and more likely to have experienced verbal, physical, or sexual abuse by a parent or caregiver.
The study analyzed data from a large U.S. survey, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which questioned more than 15,000 adolescent Americans between 1995 and 2008, following them from the average age of 15 to 28. Sometimes called “Add Health,” the survey is considered a reliable dataset for researchers because it provides a representative sample of the U.S. population.
Same-sex parenting remains a controversial field of study, given the recent political battles waged in the West over same-sex marriage and other rights for homosexuals. Advocates of gay family structures point to dozens of previous studies that have concluded children of same-sex couples do not face special disadvantages.
But critics say many of those studies have relied on “convenience samples” made up of survey participants recruited through websites, gay advocacy events, sperm banks, parent forums, word of mouth, or other nonrandom methods. Such recruiting methods can be prone to bias because families who are already faring well may be the most likely to volunteer as participants.
By using the Add Health survey data, Sullins study shows the risk of depression, obesity, and suicidal ideation increased or decreased as adolescents grew older.
For example, children in same-sex-parented households became less likely to experience suicidal thoughts as they grew older: 44 percent experienced suicidal ideation as adolescents, while 30 percent had such thoughts as adults. (Among opposite-sex-parented children, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts fell from 14 percent in adolescence to 7 percent in adulthood.)
Similarly, participants were less likely as they grew older to say they felt distant from one or both parents. Among same-sex-parented children, 93 percent of adolescents said they felt distant from a parent, and 73 percent said so as adults. (In traditional mother-father families, 36 percent of adolescents and 44 percent of adults said they felt distant from a parent.)
Adults who had grown up in same-sex-parented households were more likely to report feeling socially stigmatized (37 percent, compared to 7 percent of children from traditional households). But it’s unclear why they felt stigmatized. Sullins speculates the stigma could be linked to body image and the high rate of obesity.
Sullins’ study benefited from using a representative sample, although that sample turned out to be very small: It consisted of just 20 same-sex-parented households (17 lesbian couples, three gay male couples).
“I agree that it’s a small sample, and the results should be interpreted with caution,” said Sullins on Monday. But he noted that it was striking to see such stark differences (in rates of depression, obesity, etc.) show up in even in a small sample of participants. Also, because the Add Health dataset is weighted to represent the entire population, the 20 same-sex couples who participated in the study are statistically representative of hundreds of others. “This sample is the single most celebrated sample of children of same-sex parents in this whole stream of research,” Sullins said, referring to other researchers who have used the same data.
Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas sociologist who has also studied same-sex-parented households, said the small sample size was an understandable problem and did not undermine the results of Sullins’ research. “Part of the reason for the small sample has to do with the era in which the data collection first began. Same-sex households were very unusual,” wrote Regnerus last week at The Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse website.
But the scarcity of data on long-term outcomes from same-sex parenting is partly what makes the research so significant. Some recent studies suggest that same-sex and opposite-sex parenting situations may not produce equal outcomes overall, despite some claims to the contrary.
In anecdotal accounts previously reported by WORLD, some adults who grew up in same-sex households have said the lack of both biological parents—a mother and a father—in their home later made it difficult for them to develop healthy emotional and sexual relationships.
In a separate study published last year, Sullins found that children raised by same-sex parents are twice as likely to suffer emotional and behavioral problems as children with a mother and father. Those problems include depression, anxiety, defiance, and inattention.
Sullins emphasizes that nothing in his research suggests that homosexuals are less wise or loving parents than heterosexuals. Rather, the problems could stem from children lacking access to one or both of their biological parents: “As loving and caring as two mothers are, neither of them is a man.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: July 11, 2016