FactCheck: are children ‘better off’ with a mother and father than with same-sex parents?

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Many of the studies on this question examine the outcomes for children in same-sex parented families where both parents are women.
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Jennifer Power, La Trobe University

Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, interviewed on Sky News, August 13, 2017.
YouTube

Optimally, you’ve got the input from both [a mother and a father] and the children brought up in those circumstances are, as a cohort, better off than those who are not.

… whether it’s in terms of health outcomes, mental health, physical health, whether it’s in terms of employment prospects, in terms of how this is generated from one generation to another, the social science evidence is overwhelmingly in one direction in this regard. – Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, excerpts from an interview on Sky News, August 13, 2017.

Public campaigns for and against same-sex marriage have been heightened by the Turnbull government’s plan to conduct a $122 million voluntary postal survey asking the nation whether same-sex couples should be able to marry under Australian law.

Discussing his opposition to same-sex marriage during an interview on Sky News, Liberal MP Kevin Andrews said children who are brought up with a mother and a father “are, as a cohort, better off than those who are not”.

Andrews also said the “social science evidence is overwhelmingly in one direction in this regard”.

Let’s look at the research.

Checking the source

When asked for sources to support his statements, a spokesperson for Kevin Andrews told The Conversation:

Mr Andrews wrote a book called “Maybe I Do”. You might also like to look at the 2011 report, For Kids’ Sake, by Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Sydney and studies by Douglas Allen (2015) in Canada and Paul Sullins (2015) in the US.

Verdict

Kevin Andrews’ assertion that children who are brought up with a mother and father are, “as a cohort, better off than those who are not” is not supported by research evidence.

The majority of research on this topic shows that children or adolescents raised by same-sex parents fare equally as well as those raised by opposite-sex parents on a wide range of social, emotional, health and academic outcomes.

Response to Kevin Andrews’ sources

First of all, let’s look at the sources provided by Andrews’ spokesperson to support his statements. A summary of Kevin Andrews’ book on the National Library of Australia website says it:

… reviews the evidence on the benefits of marriage for society, children, and adults. It argues that healthy, stable, and happy marriages are the optimal institution for promoting individual well being and healthy societies.

It’s true that there is a large body of evidence to show that stability in marriage and family life is beneficial for children, particularly in early childhood. Some research has shown that these benefits are associated with higher average income and education levels among married couples, rather than marriage itself.

But these studies didn’t involve comparisons between opposite-sex and same-sex married couples, so they do not defend the argument that heterosexual marriage leads to better outcomes for children than same-sex marriage. In fact, some research suggests same-sex marriage would provide benefits for children being raised in these families.

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Patrick Parkinson’s report, For Kid’s Sake, links rising rates of divorce, family conflict and instability in parental relationships with increasing psychological distress among young people in Australia. One of Parkinson’s conclusions was that:

the most stable, safe and nurturing environment for children is when their parents are, and remain, married to one another.

There are studies that support these assertions. This research supports the importance of family stability, quality relationships between parents and children, and the need for access to socioeconomic resources – but not the need for parents to be heterosexual.

Douglas Allen’s 2015 paper is a critical, but not systematic, review of more than 60 studies relating to same-sex parenting and/or child outcomes. This paper does not present findings related to child outcomes.

Rather, Allen says that, due to sampling bias and small sample sizes in the existing body of work, there is currently no conclusive scientific evidence demonstrating that children raised by same-sex couples do better or worse than children raised by heterosexual couples.

Andrews’ spokesperson also pointed to 2015 research from Paul Sullins. Sullins’ 2015 analysis of data from the US National Health Interview Survey indicated that children raised by same-sex parents were more than twice as likely to experience emotional problems than those raised by heterosexual, married parents who were biologically related to their children. But this analysis was criticised for not taking into account the stability of the family environment.

The author combined all children in same-sex families into one category, while placing children in opposite-sex families into separate categories – including different categories for step-parents and single parents, for example. So the comparison made was between all same-sex parented families, and a selection of stable heterosexual families.

Research on outcomes for children in same-sex parented families

Now let’s look at other studies that have been conducted around the world. Many of these studies examine the outcomes for children in same-sex parented families where both parents are women. There has been comparatively little research on families in which both parents are men. It can be difficult to achieve adequate sample sizes of children raised in two-father families, given the small number of these families. There is no research showing that children raised by gay fathers fare worse than other children.

A study published in 2016 using data from the US National Survey of Children’s Health for 2011-12 compared outcomes for children aged six to 17 years in 95 female same-sex parented families and 95 opposite-sex parented families.

The study found no differences in outcomes for children raised by lesbian parents compared to heterosexual parents on a range of outcomes including general health, emotional difficulties, coping behaviour and learning behaviour.

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A paper published for the American Sociological Association in 2014 reviewed 10 years’ of scientific literature on child well-being in same-sex parented families in the US. The literature review covered 40 original published studies, including numerous credible and methodologically sound social science studies, many of which drew on nationally representative data.

The authors concluded there was clear consensus in scientific literature that children raised by same-sex couples fared as well as children raised by opposite-sex couples. This applied for a range of well-being measures, including:

  • academic performance
  • cognitive development
  • social development
  • psychological health
  • early sexual activity, and
  • substance abuse.

The authors noted that differences in child well-being were largely due to socioeconomic circumstances and family stability.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2010 combined the results of 33 studies to assess how the gender of parents affected children. The authors found the strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appeared to the same degree in families with two mothers and potentially in those with two fathers.

The meta-analysis found no evidence that children raised by same-sex couples fared worse than children raised by opposite-sex couples on a range of outcomes including:

  • security of attachment to parents
  • behavioural problems
  • self perceptions of cognitive and physical competence, and
  • interest, effort and success in school.

This review included studies from Europe, the UK and the US. The authors said that scholars had achieved

a rare degree of consensus that unmarried lesbian parents are raising children who develop at least as well as their counterparts with married heterosexual parents.

In Australia, a large study published in the peer-reviewed BMC Public Health Journal in 2014 (and of which I was one of five co-authors) surveyed 315 parents representing 500 children. 80% of children had a female same-sex attracted parent, while 18% had a male same-sex attracted parent.

The results did support previous research showing that stigma related to a parent’s sexual orientation is negatively associated with mental health and well-being.

But, overall, the study found children and adolescents raised by same-sex parents in Australia fared as well as children of opposite-sex parents, and better on measures of general behaviour, general health and family cohesion.

A follow up paper published in 2016 found there was no difference between children raised in female same-sex parent households and children raised in male same-sex parent households.

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Further work from the same project reported on surveys and interviews with adolescents raised by same-sex parents. This study (of which I was one of four co-authors) did find that some adolescents with same-sex parents reported experiencing anxiety relating to fear of discrimination, which was linked to poorer well-being.

A US study published in 2011 found adolescents raised by lesbian mothers were more likely to have reported occasional substance use, but not more likely to have reported heavy use, than other adolescents.

A 2010 analysis of data from the 2000 US census found that children raised by same-sex couples had no fundamental deficits in making normal progress through school compared to children raised by opposite-sex couples.

When parents’ socio-economic status and the characteristics of the students were accounted for, the educational outcomes for children of same-sex couples couldn’t be distinguished with statistical certainty from children of heterosexual married couples.

Analysing studies that show different results

Some studies have indicated that adults raised by same-sex parents fare worse on some educational, social or emotional outcomes. But the majority of research does not support this. There are also studies that have been published and later discredited, but continue to be used as references.

The 2012 US New Family Structures Study, also known as the “Regnerus study”, is often cited by groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

The study looked at outcomes for adults aged 18-39. It compared outcomes for adults with a parent who had had a same-sex relationship, with outcomes for adults raised by still-married, heterosexual couples who were biologically related to their children. It showed the adults with a gay or lesbian parent or parents fared worse on a range of social, educational and health outcomes. But this study has been very widely criticised.

In a brief filed in the US Supreme Court in 2015, the American Sociological Association said:

The Regnerus study … did not specifically examine children raised by same-sex parents, and provides no support for the conclusions that same-sex parents are inferior parents or that the children of same-sex parents experience worse outcomes.

As outlined by the American Sociological Association, the study removed all divorced, single, and step-parent families from the heterosexual group, leaving only stable, married, heterosexual families as the comparison. In addition, Regnerus categorised children as having been raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship

regardless of whether they were in fact raised by the parent … and regardless of the amount of time that they spent under the parent’s care.

A subsequent reanalysis of the data, using different criteria for categorising respondents, found the results inconclusive, or suggestive that “adult children raised by same-sex two-parent families show a comparable adult profile to their peers raised by two-biological-parent families”.

Strengths and weaknesses of evidence on outcomes for children

The “gold standard” for research on child and family outcomes are studies that involve randomly selected, population-based samples. This has been difficult to achieve in research on same-sex parenting because many population-based studies don’t ask about parents’ sexual orientation. Even where they do ask, not all studies include a sample of children or adults raised by same-sex parents that is large enough to provide for reliable statistical analysis.

This has led to criticism of the quality of evidence on outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents, because most studies have relied on convenience or volunteer samples, which are not randomly selected, and so may include bias.

However, there are methodological limitations in all studies. And, as outlined earlier, recent analyses of population-based data sets have supported the finding that children or adolescents raised by same-sex couples do not experience poorer outcomes than other children. So there is no clear basis to the argument that convenience samples lead to “incorrect” findings due to bias. – Jennifer Power

Review

This FactCheck gives a good broad overview of the research and scientific consensus in regard to child health and well-being in same-sex parent families. The studies included, on balance, represent the current understanding of academics and child health experts on child health and well-being outcomes in same-sex parent families.

The National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study provides additional evidence to support the verdict of this FactCheck. As a well established and methodologically robust longitudinal study, the National Lesbian Longitudinal Family Study provides important additional insights.

In the Australian context, the 2013 Australian Institute of Family Studies review of same-sex parent families also supports the overall verdict of this FactCheck.

It should be noted that research has indicated that same-sex parent families experience stigma and discrimination, and when they do it can impact on child health and well-being.

Overall, however, the verdict in this FactCheck is appropriate based on current research. – Simon Crouch


The Conversation FactCheck is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network.

The Conversation’s FactCheck unit is the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.

The ConversationHave you seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Jennifer Power, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Legalising same-sex marriage will help reduce high rates of suicide among young people in Australia

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In Australia, same-sex attracted young people are six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than their heterosexual peers.
from shutterstock.com

Jo Robinson, University of Melbourne; Eleanor Bailey, University of Melbourne, and Pat McGorry, University of Melbourne

Australia remains one of the last English-speaking countries in the developed world not to legally recognise same-sex marriage. If the upcoming postal survey indicates public support for marriage equality, a conscience vote will be held in parliament. If not, it’s unlikely that same-sex couples will be able to marry for as long as the current government remains in office.


Further information – Mathias Cormann on the same-sex marriage postal survey


This would be quite a harmful outcome for the health of same-sex attracted couples, who are already at higher risk of poorer mental health outcomes and suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. This is directly associated with the stigma and discrimination to which they are exposed on a daily basis.

Research shows that in countries and jurisdictions that have legalised same-sex marriage, there is a much smaller gap between the rates of poor mental health among same-sex attracted and heterosexual people. This is particularly the case with young people, for whom suicide rates have a been a significant national concern for decades.

Just this week, a national study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that 10% of 14-15-year-olds reported that they had self-harmed in the previous 12 months, and 5% had attempted suicide. Legalising same-sex marriage will go a way towards lowering suicide rates in this group, as well as across the board.

Negative health impacts where same-sex marriage is banned

Young same-sex attracted people in particular already experience feelings of social discrimination, which could increase if same-sex marriage is not legalised. Same-sex-attracted young people are roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, more than six times more likely to have thoughts of suicide, and five times more likely to make a suicide attempt than their heterosexual peers.

These inequalities are exacerbated in jurisdictions that do not support same sex marriage and where discrimination is therefore institutionally endorsed.


Read more: Why do so many gay and bisexual men die from suicide?


For example, a US study found that psychiatric disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders, as well as problems with alcohol, increased significantly among same-sex-attracted people who lived in states that banned gay marriage during the 2004 and 2005 elections. There was no such increase among people living in states without such constitutional amendments, or among heterosexual people living in those same communities.

Another US study found that sexual minority people (whose sexual identity, orientation or practices differ from the majority) living in communities that were highly prejudiced against them showed substantially elevated rates of both physical and mental illness, as well suicide. It also showed the average age of suicide among sexual minority individuals was significantly younger in these “high-prejudice” communities when compared to other areas.

Health benefits where same-sex marriage is legalised

Such inequalities – between the mental health of homosexual and heterosexual people – do not necessarily exist when same-sex couples are afforded the same rights with regard to institutionally recognised marriage. This finding persists among middle-aged men and young people.

There are positive impacts on the mental health of same-sex attracted people in places where there is marriage equality.
from shutterstock.com

In Denmark same-sex married men experienced a
reduction in rates of premature death after the implementation of a registered partnerships law in 1989. Similarly, in the United States, implementation of same-sex marriage policies has been associated with a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide. The association was strongest among sexual minority students.

Based on figures from the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing this would equate to almost 3,000 fewer suicide attempts made by Australian secondary school students per year. These benefits are not necessarily attributed to marriage per se, but rather the legal right to marry. They are also not restricted to mental health, but have also been reported in terms of financial factors, physical health and health care costs.

The likely effects of a ‘no campaign’

A small number of studies have also examined the impact of plebiscites and their associated “no campaigns” on the mental health and well-being of communities. These consistently report that exposure to repeated negative messaging about same-sex marriage creates a unique form of social stress resulting in poorer psychological outcomes.


Read more: Did the suicide rate decrease during Ireland’s referendum on same-sex marriage?


While the specific impact of these campaigns on suicide related outcomes remains unknown for the time being, the relationship between minority stress, mental illness and suicide is well established. It is therefore likely that risk will increase throughout this process. Indeed, mental health and crisis support services are already reporting an increase in the rate of contacts, an increase that has been attributed to the debate currently underway.

The Australian government has given a significant amount of attention and resource to the treatment of mental ill-health and prevention of suicide, including among young people, over recent years. Yet, the institutional inequalities and the already toxic debate currently underway (despite assurances on the part of government that any debate will be respectful) will undoubtedly increase the risk of both. This risk needs to be taken extremely seriously over the coming months.


If this article has raised issues for you or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 44.


The ConversationNote: The first sentence has been amended to reflect that Australia is not the “only” English speaking developed country to not yet recognise same-sex marriage.

Jo Robinson, Senior Research Fellow, Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne; Eleanor Bailey, Research Assistant, Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, University of Melbourne, and Pat McGorry, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The intersex rights movement is ready for its moment | The Washington Post

 

ON A MONDAY MORNING THIS PAST SUMMER, MARISSA ADAMS is telling me about her plans for the future. They are bubbling out of her as we drive to Johns Hopkins’s Bayview Medical Center in her red Honda Fit, its back seat a thicket of table legs and frames in preparation for her move to a new apartment next month. Adams, 25, wants to finish college — she has three semesters left, after some stops and starts — and go on to graduate school in psychology. She wants to be a therapist, or possibly a psychiatric nurse. And, of course, she wants to meet someone. “I can’t wait to be engaged one day,” she says not long after I climb into her car, complimenting the ring on my left hand. “I want it to happen so bad. I hate being single.” In her free time, she scrolls through dating apps, looking for women she’d like to get to know over coffee or Chinese food, since she’s not a big drinker.

▲ MARISSA ADAMS, 25

Towson, Md.

“I wasn’t used to talking about it, to being out about it. … And I was afraid that no one else’s story would be like mine.”

But before all that, there’s the reason we’re driving to the hospital today: Adams is looking for a doctor who will at least attempt to address the effects of the genital surgery performed with her parents’ permission when she was 18 months old — surgery that was meant to make her body more conventionally female, and that she wishes she’d never had.

More: The Washington Post

Basic income isn’t just a nice idea. It’s a birthright | Jason Hickel 

Every student learns about Magna Carta, the ancient scroll that enshrined the rights of barons against the arbitrary authority of England’s monarchs. But most have never heard of its arguably more important twin, the Charter of the Forest, issued two years later in 1217. This short but powerful document guaranteed the rights of commoners to common lands, which they could use for farming, grazing, water and wood. It gave official recognition to a right that humans nearly everywhere had long just presupposed: that no one should be debarred from the resources necessary for livelihood.

But this right – the right of habitation – came under brutal attack beginning in the 15th century, when wealthy nobles began fencing off common lands for their own profit. Over the next few centuries, the enclosure movement, as it came to be known, shifted tens of millions of acres into private hands, displacing much of the country’s population. Excluded from the basic means of survival, most were left with no choice but to sell themselves for wages for the first time.

More:The Guardian

Adoption reforms on the way in Northern Territory | NT News

SAME-sex and unmarried couples will soon be able to adopt kids in the Territory.

The NT News can reveal the Labor Government will have bipartisan support from the Opposition CLP when it gives notice of the legislation change in the November sittings of Parliament.

The NT is the only Australian jurisdiction in which same-sex and unmarried couples are not allowed to adopt children. South Australia was the last state to pass adoption reform in late 2016.

More:  NT News

Shortage of adopters and foster carers can be tackled if we think outside of gender norms

Research and practice knowledge tells us that that some of the most important attributes of carers are nothing to do with gender and sexuality, says Claire Brown at Community Care:

Since the 1950s, adoption agencies in the UK and America have acted as ‘gatekeepers’, deciding who is suitable to become an adoptive parent and who is not. Their decisions tend to be influenced by heteronormative and gender normative views, where the ideal family is still seen as a heterosexual couple who conform to the usual expectations of gender.

Those who identify outside of the expected norms are often seen as a second-best choice of family. As such, non-normative families are often excluded entirely, or fall to the ‘bottom of the pile’ in terms of choice of adoptive parents or foster carers (see Gailey, 2010). However, with the UK facing a constant shortage of foster carers and adoptive parents, this discriminatory approach must be reconsidered for practical as well as moral reasons.   

More: Community Care

GIST Support UK: Cardiff Conference

I spent yesterday in Cardiff, for a patients/carers meeting with GIST Support UK.

GIST (“Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour”) is a particularly rare form of cancer, which I was diagnosed with just over three years ago.  Because it is a sarcoma, not the more usual form of cancer, carcinoma, much of what is popularly  understood by the term “cancer” simply does not apply. Because it is so rare (even most GP’s and nurses have never heard of it), it really needs to be treated in specialist sarcoma centres. For all these reasons, people who have been diagnosed with GIST are in particular need of support – to meet and hear from others in similar situations, and to keep abreast with the latest developments in research and treatment for the condition.

GIST support UK provides this support in different ways. Most obviously, it has a website which summarises the key information currently available – and lists the specialist centres with appropriate expertise in treating the condition. It also has an email Listserve group, where people with GIST can tell their stories, ask for or offer help and advice, or report on new developments from the world of science. We also host a patients’/carers’ meeting twice a year in different parts of the country, where people can get this personal contact face to face – and get reports on the best current knowledge, from experts in the field.

We do not simply sit back and receive the result of research – we also contribute to it, directly. In conjunction with the Royal Marsden, we host a GIST tissue bank, where tumours that have been surgically removed from people with GIST, are stored and available for clinical research. We also directly fund researchers working in the field, and pay for patient advocates to participate in academic conferences, contributing the voice of patient experience. It is notable, for instance, that one recent academic paper on the current best practice by leading UK researchers, included in the acknowledgements, the value of contributions by two of our leading members.

I came across the website from a Googe search immediately after my initial diagnosis. I then signed up to the Listserve group, which I have both learned from and contributed to, and have since attended three of the patient meetings, to my immense benefit. I was flattered at yesterday’s meeting to be invited to join the board of trustees.

All of this good work, inevitably costs money., for which we have an active fundraising team. I am not a great fundraiser myself, but from time to time I will be sharing information on GIST Support UK fundraising activities. When I do, please consider contributing.

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BBC – BBC Four to investigate how flu pandemic spreads by launching BBC Pandemic app – Media Centre

Today BBC Four launches the first ever life saving pandemic.

In a first of its kind nationwide citizen science experiment, Dr Hannah Fry is asking volunteers to download the BBC Pandemic App onto their smartphones. The free app will anonymously collect vital data on how far users travel over a 24 hour period. Users will be asked for information about the number of people they have come into contact with during this time. This data will be used to simulate the spread of a highly infectious disease to see what might happen when – not if – a real pandemic hits the UK.

By partnering with researchers at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the BBC Pandemic app will identify the human networks and behaviours that spread infectious disease. The data collated from the app will help improve public health planning and outbreak control.

More: BBC – Media Centre

Shortage of adopters and foster carers can be tackled if we think outside of gender norms

Paris and Berlin will reportedly reject requests for Brexit talks to move on to a possible transitional arrangement until the so-called “divorce bill” is settled, in a huge setback to Theresa May after her well received speech in Florence.

In that speech, the Prime Minister proposed a two-year transitional period after the UK leaves the EU, in a bid to break the deadlock of the negotiations.

But, according to the Financial Times, any hope of moving on to discussion of establishing a transitional deal will be effectively vetoed by France and Germany, until the question the UK’s exit settlement is fully agreed.

Source: Shortage of adopters and foster carers can be tackled if we think outside of gender norms

Theresa May’s Brexit plans in ruins after France and Germany ‘reject transitional arrangement’ | The Independent

Paris and Berlin will reportedly reject requests for Brexit talks to move on to a possible transitional arrangement until the so-called “divorce bill” is settled, in a huge setback to Theresa May after her well received speech in Florence.

In that speech, the Prime Minister proposed a two-year transitional period after the UK leaves the EU, in a bid to break the deadlock of the negotiations.

But, according to the Financial Times, any hope of moving on to discussion of establishing a transitional deal will be effectively vetoed by France and Germany, until the question the UK’s exit settlement is fully agreed.

More: The Independent