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June 10, 2010

Top medical journal publishes study of lesbian families

Pediatrics, the official peer-reviewed journal DownloadedFile of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has published online a groundbreaking study from a research project that has measured the psychological health from conception to adolescence of children raised in a cohort of lesbian families. It is the largest and longest running longitudinal study of the children of lesbian parents, and will continue until the children reach adulthood. In US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents, lead author Nanette Gartrell and co-author Henny Bos report that the children in the study were rated significantly higher (using a standardized survey instrument) than an age-matched national sample on the following measures: social, school/academic and total competence. In addition, they were rated significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, and aggressive and externalizing problem behavior.

Dr. Gartrell told Time magazine that she had expected to find no difference in psychological development between children in the study and those in the control group. She believes that the results are likely due to the extent to which the lesbian moms were actively involved in their children's lives, with significant engagement by both mothers continuing in many instances after 56% of the original couples broke up. The cohort consists solely of children born after the mothers had come out; unlike the majority of children with lesbian moms, none of these children were born to parents in a heterosexual relationship that ended in divorce, followed by the mother's coming out. In this cohort, the children of partners who had separated did as well on the standardized measurements as those of partners who were still together.

The study specifically addresses the question of the children's experience of, and reaction to, stigma. It found that 41% of the children reported having endured some teasing, ostracism or discrimination related to their being raised by same-sex parents. According to the Time interview of Dr. Gartrell, at age 10, the children who reported discrimination exhibited more signs of psychological stress than their peers, but by age 17, the harmful effects had decreased.

Dr. Gartrell is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco and a Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar.  Her co-investigator is Henny Bos, Ph.D., of the Graduate School of Pedagogical and Educational Sciences at the University of Amsterdam.


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