But when the distress of the bisexual parents was controlled for, there was no residual difference between the children of these and other parents, both lesbian/gay and heterosexual.
A study has found that bisexual parents experience substantially greater stress than lesbian/gay and heterosexual parents, and that children in these families display more emotional and mental health difficulties. Indeed, 20% of bisexual parents in a sample of over 1,000 exceeded the threshold score for a diagnosable psychiatric disorder. When the distress of these bisexual parents was controlled for, however, there was no residual difference between the children of these and other parents, whether lesbian/gay or heterosexual. This suggests that it is not the sexual orientation of bisexual parents per se that predicts more child difficulties, but rather the increased stigma these parents face, which could be mitigated by more support and acceptance.
Earlier research also finds that bisexual parents experience greater difficulties, possibly because of the discrimination that bisexual people face. They also receive less partner support: they are more likely to be single parents – 61% in this study, compared to 47% of lesbian/gay parents and 29% of heterosexual parents.
The study also showed no differences on average in difficulties experienced by children of lesbian/gay parents and heterosexual parents. Based on the fact that the sexual orientation of parents per se does not predict greater difficulty experienced by children, the researchers conclude, “Our results provide further reassurance that …. concerns about children being raised in same-gender partnered households appear unwarranted.”
The researchers analysed data collected in 2013-15 in a ‘National Health Interview Study’, involving 21,103 parents of 4- to 17-year-olds in the USA. In this sample, 0.7% of children were living with at least one gay/lesbian parent and 0.6% with at least one bisexual parent. The sample revealed some diversity not detected in studies that specifically select families for study. For example, 11% of children with one lesbian/gay parent lived in a household where parents were of different genders.
Each parent in this study was asked about sexual orientation, about their experience of psychological distress and about the well-being of their child, using a ‘Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire’. The questionnaire asked about the child’s behavior, anxiety, unhappiness, peer friendships and concentration. (The researchers admit that measuring the child’s experience via asking the parent is not wholly reliable. This method also misses whether the child is aware of the parent’s sexuality, which may make a difference to the child.)
The results back up earlier research that finds no differences on average between children raised in LGB-headed families and heterosexual families in terms of psychosocial adjustment, peer relations, romantic relationships, sexual behavior, school outcomes, substance abuse, delinquency and experience of victimization. Indeed, young adults from lesbian-headed families have been found to report better mental health on average than their peers in heterosexual families.
The research does not say that the experience of children by LGB, heterosexual and bisexual parents is the same, however. Other research shows these children are likely to be exposed to more stigma than children of heterosexual parents, but also that the nontraditional family structure can be a source of strength, pride and positive coping strategies. But this study adds to the evidence that the sexual orientation of parents per se is not significant for child development outcomes.
In the USA about 6 million children have an LGB parent, and 220,000 children under 18 in are being raised by same-gender parents. More than a third of Americans, however, do not believe that LGB individuals should have the right to adopt a child.
Header photo: Tamara Craiu. Creative Commons.
Calzo JP, Mays VM, Björkenstam C, Björkenstam E, Kosidou K & Cochran S (2019), Parental sexual orientation and children’s psychological well-being: 2013-2015 National Health Interview Survey, Child Development 90.4