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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

SDSU: How Does the Emotional and Mental Health of Children of Same-sex and Heterosexual Parents Differ?

New research led by the San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health has found the emotional and mental health of children raised by parents in same-gender relationships does not differ from children of heterosexual parents.

The population of children and adults in the United States with lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) parent and parents has increased with the shifting landscape of civil rights for LGB and other sexual minority populations. It is estimated that there are 220,000 children in the U.S. younger than 18 years of age who are being raised by parents in a same-gender relationship and up to 6 million children and adults in the U.S. with an LGB parent. The study participants were a nationally representative sample from the 2013 to 2015 U.S. population-based National Health Interview Survey of parents reporting their children’s (aged 4 – 17 years old, N=21,103) emotional and mental health difficulties using the short form Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The study results are published in the journal of Child Development.

Children of bisexual parents had higher SDQ than children of heterosexual parents. When examining whether there were significant differences across the three parental sexual orientation groups, and adjusting for parental psychological distress, an indicator of minority stress results indicated no significant difference in SDQ scores.

“The findings are in line with many studies conducted previously, which show no differences in child well-being or mental health when comparing children raised by heterosexual and sexual minority parents. However, we also found findings that suggest the need for more research on factors influencing psychological distress among bisexual parents and sexual minority stress on child development,” said Dr. Jerel Calzo, associate professor at the San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health and the study’s lead author.

There is an ongoing debate about whether parental sexual orientation affects children’s well-being and quality of life. With more than a third of Americans believing that LGB individuals should not have the right to adopt a child, such public opinion provides cultural context of sexual orientation-related stigma and minority stress that may affect LGB families and subsequently affect children raised in such families. Thus, the implications of this research are valuable for informing adoption or custody decisions, as well as state and federal policy.

The findings provide support for the de-stigmatization of LGB parenting styles. This study also adds to the growing literature surrounding resilience of children raised by sexual minority parents.

This study was also conducted by Drs. Vickie Mays and Susan Cochran of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health (FSPH), Drs. Emma Bjorkenstam and Charlotte Bjorkenstam of FSPH and Karolinksa Institutet, and Dr. Kyriaki Kosidou of Karolinska Institutet.