Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 503–526 | Cite as

Demographic Characteristics of Lesbian Parents in the United States

  • Karin L. Brewster
  • Kathryn Harker Tillman
  • Hanna Jokinen-Gordon


Most research on lesbian families draws on either nonrepresentative samples or on representative samples of female-partner households. In contrast, this article uses individual-level, nationally representative survey data to provide a demographic description of lesbian parents in the United States. Pooling data from the 2002 and 2006–2010 rounds of the National Survey of Family Growth yielded a sample of 15,784 women aged 20–44 years, about 1.3 % of whom are lesbians. Defining parents broadly to include legal and social parents, we find that about 23 % of lesbians are parents, compared to about 68 % of heterosexual and 56 % of bisexual women. Lesbians become parents through a more diverse set of pathways than other women, including adoption and parenting a spouse or partner’s child. Consistent with patterns in the broader population, but at odds with media portrayals, lesbian parents are more likely than lesbian nonparents to be women of color and foreign-born, and most appear to have become parents in prior heterosexual relationships. We found evidence, however, of a convergence in the pathways women follow to parenthood, with lesbians’ probability of biological parenthood increasing and their probability of adoptive or social parenthood decreasing between the two surveys. Recent changes in the legal and social context and improvements in medical technology provide grounds for speculating about this convergence. We recognize, however, that these speculations cannot be tested without population-based data collection efforts aimed at providing richer information on the diversity of family experiences in the contemporary United States.


Lesbians Lesbian parents Sexual identity Parenthood Gay families 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karin L. Brewster
    • 1
  • Kathryn Harker Tillman
    • 1
  • Hanna Jokinen-Gordon
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Demography and Population HealthFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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