The Regnerus study (cont.)

06.12.2012, 8:10 PM

I haven’t read all of the commentary on the Mark Regnerus study of the adult children whose parents have same-sex relationships, but based on what I have read, and after having read the study itself and thought about it for a few days,  I’d like to offfer three general propositions about the study, and see if you think they are on target or not.

1.  The study provides preliminary but valuable information about the approximately 1.7 percent of young adults whose mother or father had a same-sex relationship.

The study it not able to address issues of causation — it cannot say that X outcome for these children is the result of the parents having a same-sex relationship — but the study nevertheless does contain a lot of fascinating, surprising (to me, anyway), often troubling, and therefore potentially important information about these young people.

2.  The study provides little if any insight on the topic of family structure.

Here are some questions about family structure:

a.  When you were age five, who else was living in your household?

b.  Did your living arrangements ever change as the result of parental divorce?

c.  Did a grandparent ever live with you when you were growing up?

Here are some questions that are NOT about family structure:

a.  Did either of your parents ever drink heavily?

b.  Did either of your parents ever win the lottery?

c.  Did either of your parents ever have a same-sex relationship?

In general, family structure questions are questions concerning what the Census Bureau call living arrangements.  Other questions are about … other things.

Therefore, comparing the results of questions about family structure with results of questions that are NOT about family structure is … confusing … especially in a study that says it’s about “new family structures.”   I think that’s the heart of why this study is generating such heated commentary.  Particularly confusing is the attempt to compare outcomes of children whose parents had a same-sex relationship (which is not an issue of family structure) with outcomes of children who grew up in bio two-parent married homes (which is an issue of family structure).

Tangentially, if this study can’t tell us much of anything about family structure, it CERTAINLY can tell us nothing at all about the issue of marriage, gay or otherwise.

3.  What might make sense in a follow-up analysis of these data, by Regnerus or anyone else,  is to compare outcomes of young adults whose parents had a same-sex relationship with outcomes of young adults whose parents did not have a same-sex relationship.  Such a comparison still would tell us nothing definitive about causation, but it seems to me that such a comparison would at least be apples to apples, rather than apples to oranges.  And it would be interesting.  (If Regnerus has already showed this comparison in the study, and I just missed it somehow, someone please correct me.)


6 Responses to “The Regnerus study (cont.)”

  1. Peter Hoh says:

    Based on what I’ve read, I think you are on target.

  2. JeffreyRO5 says:

    Normally I would support any kind of research about families. But particular care should be made in researching politicized issues, both from a “is it really worth studying this?” concern to “how will my findings be used?” concern. Why is it of interest to know the “outcomes” of children raised by a parent who had a same-sex relationship at some time during the child’s lifetime? I’m not sure why that would be a topic of interest, and what conclusions could be drawn from it. It seems like a fishing expedition to me.

  3. Peter Hoh says:

    Jeffery raises important points.

    I also wonder about the accuracy of a study that relies on children to report on the sexual behavior of their parents. How likely is it that children are able to accurately report this information?

  4. Mitchell Young says:

    ” comparing the results of questions about family structure with results of questions that are NOT about family structure is … confusing … especially in a study that says it’s about “new family structur”

    It may be ‘confusing’ but it is a standard social science technique. Think of standard studies of, say, HIV infection. Questionaires may ask those newly diagnosed about their sexual activity or drug taking habits (questions dealing with mode of transmission), and about their ethnic or racial identification (questions dealing with demographics)

    Here, it is obvious that the question about alcoholism is there to control for that factor (presumably a big one), when looking at outcomes for children raised in various family structures. LIkewise the same-sex affair question might get to whether the child was brought up in a heterosexual household but by a ‘closeted’ parent.

  5. Peter Hoh says:

    The way the questions were set up, combined with the practical realities of asking respondents to report on their parents’ “romantic relationships,” would seem almost certain to skew the study results.

    So long as a parent’s romantic relationship with a same-sex partner did not cause family trauma and were unknown to the respondent, the study regards such parents as heterosexual. If, however, a parent’s romantic relationship with a same-sex partner caused family trauma (which would lead to the child learning of it) then the parent is identified as homosexual.

    So the survey isn’t really looking for the parents’ sexual behavior so much as it is looking for family trauma. Are we supposed to be surprised that family trauma is associated with reduced outcomes for children?

    I’m ready to stand corrected, but it seems that if a respondent’s family trauma were due to a parent’s romantic relationship with an opposite-sex partner, he or she would not be counted in the survey at all.

  6. JeffreyRO5 says:

    Regnerus is stretching to find some kind of connection between same-sex parenting, and/or homosexuality, and bad outcomes for children. He’s certainly “dinged” his reputation for doing so. And for what? An irrelevant study of parenting that cannot be used for any public policy, other than to support further discrimination against gays and lesbians. Bravo, Professor Regnerus!