I use U.S. census data to perform the first large-sample, nationally representative tests of outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples. The results show that children of same-sex couples are as likely to make normal progress through school as the children of most other family structures. Heterosexual married couples are the family type whose children have the lowest rates of grade retention, but the advantage of heterosexual married couples is mostly due to their higher socioeconomic status. Children of all family types (including children of same-sex couples) are far more likely to make normal progress through school than are children living in group quarters (such as orphanages and shelters).
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Alexander, K.L., D.R. Entwisle, and S.L. Dauber. 2003. On the Success of Failure: A Reassessment of the Effects of Retention in the Primary Grades. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Alexander, K.L., D.R. Entwisle, and C.S. Horsey. 1997. “From First Grade Forward: Early Foundations of High School Dropout.” Sociology of Education 70: 87–107.
Alvaré, H.M. 2005. “The Turn Toward the Self in the Law of Marriage and Family: Same-Sex Marriage and Its Predecessors.” Stanford Law and Policy Review 16: 135–96.
Amato, P.R. and J. Cheadle. 2005. “The Long Reach of Divorce: Divorce and Child Well-being Across Three Generations.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67: 191–206.
Ball, C.A. and J.F. Pea. 1998. “Warring With Wardle: Morality, Social Science, and Gay and Lesbian Parents.” University of Illinois Law Review 1998: 253–339.
Bartholet, E. 1999. Nobody’s Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative. Boston: Beacon Press.
Baumrind, D. 1966. “Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior.” Child Development 37: 887–907.
Bianchi, S. 1984. “Children’s Progress Through School: A Research Note.” Sociology of Education 57: 184–92.
Biblarz, T.J. and A.E. Raftery. 1999. “Family Structure, Educational Attainment, and Socioeconomic Success: Rethinking the ‘Pathology of Matriarchy’.” American Journal of Sociology 105: 321–65.
Brewaeys, A., I. Ponjaert, E.V. Van Hall, and S. Golombok. 1997. “Donor Insemination: Child Development and Family Functioning in Lesbian Mother Families.” Human Reproduction 12: 1349–59.
Brooks-Gunn, J. and L.B. Markman. 2005. “The Contribution of Parenting to Ethnic and Racial Gaps in School Readiness.” The Future of Children 15: 139–68.
Chan, R.W., B. Raboy, and C.J. Patterson. 1998. “Psychosocial Adjustment Among Children Conceived Via Donor Insemination by Lesbian and Heterosexual Mothers.” Child Development 69: 443–57.
Chase-Lansdale, P.L., A.J. Cherlin, and K.E. Kiernan. 1995. “The Long-Term Effects of Parental Divorce on the Mental Health of Young Adults: A Developmental Perspective.” Child Development 66: 1614–34.
Cheng, S. and B. Powell. 2005. “Small Samples, Big Challenges: Studying Atypical Family Forms.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67: 926–35.
Cherlin, A.J. 1992. Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
—. 1999. “Going to Extremes: Family Structure, Children’s Well-being, and Social Science.” Demography 36: 421–28.
Dawson, D.A. 1991. “Family Structure and Children’s Health and Well-being: Data From the 1988 National Health Interview Survey on Child Health.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 53: 573–84.
Eskridge, W.N., Jr. 1996. The Case for Same Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment. New York: Free Press.
—. 2002. Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights. New York: Routledge.
Flaks, D.K., I. Ficher, F. Masterpasqua, and G. Joseph. 1995. “Lesbians Choosing Motherhood: A Comparative Study of Lesbian and Heterosexual Parents and Their Children.” Developmental Psychology 31: 105–14.
Freud, S.  1975. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.
Gennetian, L.A. 2005. “One or Two Parents? Half or Step Siblings? The Effect of Family Structure on Young Children’s Achievement.” Journal of Population Economics 18: 415–36.
Ginther, D.K. and R.A. Pollak. 2004. “Family Structure and Children’s Educational Outcomes: Blended Families, Stylized Facts, and Descriptive Regressions.” Demography 41: 671–96.
Goldstein, J., A. Freud, and A.J. Solnit. 1979. Before the Best Interests of the Child. New York: Free Press.
Golombok, S., B. Perry, A. Burston, C. Murray, J. Mooney-Somers, M. Stevens, and J. Golding. 2003. “Children With Lesbian Parents: A Community Study.” Developmental Psychology 39: 20–33.
Guo, G., J. Brooks-Gunn, and K.M. Harris. 1996. “Parents’ Labor Force Attachment and Grade Retention Among Urban Black Children.” Sociology of Education 69: 217–36.
Hamilton, L., S. Cheng, and B. Powell. 2007. “Adoptive Parents, Adaptive Parents: Evaluating the Importance of Biological Ties for Parental Investment.” American Sociological Review 72: 95–116.
Harris, J.R. 1998. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: Touchstone.
Hauser, R.M. 2001. “Should We End Social Promotion? Truth and Consequences.” Pp. 151–78 in Raising Standards or Raising Barriers? Inequality and High Stakes Testing in Public Education, edited by G. Orfield and M.L. Kornhaber. New York: Century Foundation.
Hauser, R.M., D.I. Pager, and S.J. Simmons. 2001. “Race-Ethnicity, Social Background, and Grade Retention: An Analysis of the Last Thirty Years.” CEIC Review 10(5): 11–12.
Heubert, J.P. and R.M. Hauser. 1999. “High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation.” Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Jamieson, A., A. Curry, and G. Martinez. 2001. “School Enrollment in the United States—Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 1999.” Current Population Reports P20–533. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
Kennedy, R. 2003. Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity and Adoption. New York: Pantheon.
Koppelman, A. 2002. The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kowalesi-Jones, L. and G.J. Duncan. 1999. “The Structure of Achievement and Behavior Across Middle Childhood.” Child Development 70: 930–43.
Lareau, A. 2003. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lechner, M. 2002. “Program Heterogeneity and Propensity Score Matching: An Application to the Evaluation of Active Labor Market Policies.” The Review of Economics and Statistics 84: 205–20.
Lerner, R. and A.K. Nagai. 2001. “No Basis: What the Studies Don’t Tell Us About Same-Sex Parenting.” Washington, DC: Marriage Law Project.
Lundquist, J.H. 2004. “When Race Makes No Difference: Marriage and the Military.” Social Forces 83: 731–57.
Maccoby, E.E. 1990. “Gender and Relationships: A Developmental Account.” American Psychologist 45: 513–20.
Mayer, S. 1997. What Money Can’t Buy: Family Income and Children’s Life Chances. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McLanahan, S. 1985. “Family Structure and the Reproduction of Poverty.” American Journal of Sociology 90: 873–901.
McLanahan, S. and G. Sandefur. 1994. Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Meezan, W. and J. Rauch. 2005. “Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting, and America’s Children.” The Future of Children 15: 97–115.
Moller, S., E. Stearns, J.R. Blau, and K.C. Land. 2006. “Smooth and Rough Roads to Academic Achievement: Retention and Race/Class Disparities in High School.” Social Science Research 35: 157–80.
Nock, S.L. 2001. “Affidavit in the Ontario Superior Court in the Case of Halpern et al. v. Attorney General of Canada.” Available online at http://www.marriagelaw.cua.edu/Law/cases/Canada/ontario/halpern/aff_nock.pdf.
O’Connell, M. and G. Gooding. 2006. “The Use of First Names to Evaluate Reports of Gender and Its Effect on the Distribution of Married and Unmarried Couple Households.” Presented at Population Association of America, Los Angeles, March 30–April 1.
Patterson, C.J. 1995. “Families of the Lesbian Baby Boom: Parents’ Division of Labor and Children’s Adjustment.” Developmental Psychology 31: 115–23.
—. 2002. “Lesbian and Gay Parenthood.” Pp. 317–38 in Handbook of Parenting, edited by M.H. Bornstein. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Pawelski, J.G., E.C. Perrin, J.M. Foy, C.E. Allen, J.E. Crawford, M. Del Monte, K. Miriam, J.D. Klein, K. Smith, S. Springer, J.L. Tanner, and D.L. Vickers. 2006. “The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children.” Pediatrics 118: 349–64.
Perry, B., A. Burston, M. Stevens, H. Steele, J. Golding, and S. Golombok. 2004. “Children’s Play Narratives: What They Tell Us About Lesbian-Mother Families.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 74: 467–79.
Popenoe, D. 1996. Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society. New York: Free Press.
Roderick, M. 1994. “Grade Retention and School Dropout: Investigating the Association.” American Educational Research Journal 31: 729–59.
Rosenfeld, M.J. and B.-S. Kim. 2005. “The Independence of Young Adults and the Rise of Interracial and Same-Sex Unions.” American Sociological Review 70: 541–62.
Rubin, D.B. 1979. “Using Multivariate Matched Sampling and Regression Adjustment to Control Bias in Observational Studies.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 74: 318–28.
Ruggles, S., M. Sobek, T. Alexander, C.A. Fitch, R. Goeken, P.K. Hall, M. King, and C. Ronnander. 2004. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN.: Minnesota Population Center. Available online at http://www.ipums.org.
Rumberger, R.W. 1987. “High School Dropouts: A Review of Issues and Evidence.” Review of Educational Research 57: 101–21.
Rutter, M. 2002. “Nature, Nurture, and Development: From Evangelism Through Science Toward Policy and Practice.” Child Development 73: 1–21.
Shin, H.B. 2005. “School Enrollment—Social and Economic Characteristics of Students: October 2003.” Current Population Reports P20–554. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
Stacey, J. 2006. “Gay Parenthood and the Decline of Paternity as We Knew It.” Sexualities 9: 27–55.
Stacey, J. and T.J. Biblarz. 2001. “(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” American Sociological Review 66: 159–83.
Tasker, F. 2005. “Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children: A Review.” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 26: 224–40.
Tillman, K.H., G. Guo, and K.M. Harris. 2006. “Grade Retention Among Immigrant Children.” Social Science Research 35: 129–56.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2001. “Technical Note on Same-Sex Unmarried Partner Data from the 1990 and 2000 Censuses.” Available online at http://www.census.gov/sdc/chap7pums.txt.
-. 2002. “2010 Census Re-Engineering.” Available online at http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2002/2_4_02Waite.html.
Wainright, J.L. and C.J. Patterson. 2006. “Delinquency, Victimization, and Substance Use Among Adolescents With Female Same-Sex Parents.” Journal of Family Psychology 20: 526–30.
—. 2008. “Peer Relations Among Adolescents With Female Same-Sex Parents.” Developmental Psychology 44: 117–26.
Wainright, J.L., S.T. Russell, and C.J. Patterson. 2004. “Psychosocial Adjustment, School Outcomes, and Romantic Relationships of Adolescents With Same-Sex Parents.” Child Development 75: 1886–98.
Waite, L.J. and M. Gallagher. 2000. The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. New York: Doubleday.
Wald, M. 2006. “Adults’ Sexual Orientation and State Determinations Regarding Placement of Children.” Family Law Quarterly 40: 385–439.
Wallerstein, J.S. and J.B. Kelly. 1980. Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope With Divorce. New York: Basic Books.
Wallerstein, J.S., J.M. Lewis, and S. Blakeslee. 2000. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. New York: Hyperion.
Wardle, L.D. 1997. “The Potential Impact of Homosexual Parenting on Children.” University of Illinois Law Review 1997: 833–920.
Wilson, J.Q. 2002. The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families. New York: Harper Collins.
Wolfe, B., R. Haveman, D. Ginther, and C.B. An. 1996. “The ‘Window Problem’ in Studies of Children’s Attainments: A Methodological Exploration.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 91: 970–82.
Wu, L.L. and B.C. Martinson. 1993. “Family Structure and the Risk of a Premarital Birth.” American Sociological Review 58: 210–32.
Zill, N. 1996. “Family Change and Student Achievement: What We Have Learned, What It Means for Schools.” Pp. 139–84 in Family-School Links: How Do They Affect Educational Outcomes?, edited by A. Booth and J.F. Dunn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
About this article
Cite this article
Rosenfeld, M.J. Nontraditional families and childhood progress through school. Demography 47, 755–775 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0112
- Family Type
- Foster Child
- Lesbian Couple
- Normal Progress
- Grade Retention