By now almost everyone has had a whack at the recent Mark Regnerus (University of Texas) study claiming that young adults who report having a gay parent score worse on a range of life-success indicators than children from intact biological families. According to the study, these kids as young adults have lower educational attainment, are arrested more often, and have more trouble in their own relationships, among other problems. Critics have pointed out that the story is mostly one of collapsed heterosexual families, not “same-sex parenting”: The great majority of the kids were born to male-female couples, most of the presumedly gay dads and many of the moms didn’t get custody of their kids after their relationships dissolved, and few of the kids were actually raised through long periods by gay couples. LGBT advocates point out that sociologist Mark Regnerus accepted $695,000 from the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute to carry out the study.
But many critics have missed one of Regnerus’ most unexpected findings, one that may illuminate his study’s shortcomings. Specifically, and feeding into pretty much all the other problems, the study diagnoses children of gay parents as having a huge problem with poverty. Here’s Regnerus:
Sixty-nine (69) percent of LMs [respondents with lesbian mothers] and 57% of GFs [those with gay fathers] reported that their family received public assistance at some point while growing up, compared with 17% of IBFs [those with intact two-parent biological families]; 38% of LMs said they are currently receiving some form of public assistance, compared with 10% of IBFs. Just under half of all IBFs reported being employed full-time at present, compared with 26% of LMs.
Those are big gaps. And of course they’re much at odds with the affluent image of gay families presented in both pro- and anti-gay-parenting literature as well as Modern Family-style popular entertainment. What do they signify?
Probably the biggest single reason is the one cited at the outset: This is mostly a survey of what happens when heterosexual families crack up. (Interestingly, if a married couple stayed together, they were counted as an “IBF,” no matter whether one or both partners pursued same-sex liaisons.) Decades of data indicate that children of family breakup do worse than children whose parents stay together, on many variables related to adult success. One reason, though not the only reason, is that they grow up significantly poorer.