Skip to main content

Nontraditional families and childhood progress through school

Abstract

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, access via your institution.

References

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bartholet, E. 1999. Nobody’s Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baumrind, D. 1966. “Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior.” Child Development 37: 887–907.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bianchi, S. 1984. “Children’s Progress Through School: A Research Note.” Sociology of Education 57: 184–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cheng, S. and B. Powell. 2005. “Small Samples, Big Challenges: Studying Atypical Family Forms.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67: 926–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cherlin, A.J. 1992. Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • —. 1999. “Going to Extremes: Family Structure, Children’s Well-being, and Social Science.” Demography 36: 421–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eskridge, W.N., Jr. 1996. The Case for Same Sex Marriage: From Sexual Liberty to Civilized Commitment. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • —. 2002. Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Freud, S. [1905] 1975. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldstein, J., A. Freud, and A.J. Solnit. 1979. Before the Best Interests of the Child. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris, J.R. 1998. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York: Touchstone.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heubert, J.P. and R.M. Hauser. 1999. “High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation.” Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kennedy, R. 2003. Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity and Adoption. New York: Pantheon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koppelman, A. 2002. The Gay Rights Question in Contemporary American Law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kowalesi-Jones, L. and G.J. Duncan. 1999. “The Structure of Achievement and Behavior Across Middle Childhood.” Child Development 70: 930–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lareau, A. 2003. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lundquist, J.H. 2004. “When Race Makes No Difference: Marriage and the Military.” Social Forces 83: 731–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maccoby, E.E. 1990. “Gender and Relationships: A Developmental Account.” American Psychologist 45: 513–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mayer, S. 1997. What Money Can’t Buy: Family Income and Children’s Life Chances. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • McLanahan, S. 1985. “Family Structure and the Reproduction of Poverty.” American Journal of Sociology 90: 873–901.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McLanahan, S. and G. Sandefur. 1994. Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meezan, W. and J. Rauch. 2005. “Gay Marriage, Same-Sex Parenting, and America’s Children.” The Future of Children 15: 97–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • —. 2002. “Lesbian and Gay Parenthood.” Pp. 317–38 in Handbook of Parenting, edited by M.H. Bornstein. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roderick, M. 1994. “Grade Retention and School Dropout: Investigating the Association.” American Educational Research Journal 31: 729–59.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rumberger, R.W. 1987. “High School Dropouts: A Review of Issues and Evidence.” Review of Educational Research 57: 101–21.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rutter, M. 2002. “Nature, Nurture, and Development: From Evangelism Through Science Toward Policy and Practice.” Child Development 73: 1–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stacey, J. 2006. “Gay Parenthood and the Decline of Paternity as We Knew It.” Sexualities 9: 27–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stacey, J. and T.J. Biblarz. 2001. “(How) Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” American Sociological Review 66: 159–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tasker, F. 2005. “Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children: A Review.” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 26: 224–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tillman, K.H., G. Guo, and K.M. Harris. 2006. “Grade Retention Among Immigrant Children.” Social Science Research 35: 129–56.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • —. 2008. “Peer Relations Among Adolescents With Female Same-Sex Parents.” Developmental Psychology 44: 117–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waite, L.J. and M. Gallagher. 2000. The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. New York: Doubleday.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wald, M. 2006. “Adults’ Sexual Orientation and State Determinations Regarding Placement of Children.” Family Law Quarterly 40: 385–439.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallerstein, J.S. and J.B. Kelly. 1980. Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope With Divorce. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallerstein, J.S., J.M. Lewis, and S. Blakeslee. 2000. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. New York: Hyperion.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wardle, L.D. 1997. “The Potential Impact of Homosexual Parenting on Children.” University of Illinois Law Review 1997: 833–920.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, J.Q. 2002. The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families. New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wu, L.L. and B.C. Martinson. 1993. “Family Structure and the Risk of a Premarital Birth.” American Sociological Review 58: 210–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael J. Rosenfeld.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

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

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0112

Keywords

  • Family Type
  • Foster Child
  • Lesbian Couple
  • Normal Progress
  • Grade Retention