Do children raised by same-sex couples have higher rates of depression?

I do not know.  This post is two-fold.  One is to raise awareness to a potential issue that is an uncomfortable topic that nowadays people find it easier to ignore altogether rather than ask honest questions and have an open dialogue.  The other is to point out that many people will look at this as attacking same-sex couples rather than investigating potential harm to the children themselves.  Here in upside-down world many will immediately take the side of the “minority group” rather than the actual potential victims.  Again, this is not an attack at all on same-sex couples.  What two consenting adults do is none of my business.  But we need to be able to ask difficult questions.  We can still do that in our society, right?  Right…?

This article was published in Depression Research and Treatment in 2016.  Knowing the reproducibility crisis in science there absolutely needs to be more research into this and independent studies to verify the results.  It is interesting, though not necessarily surprising, that previous research that contradicts this study has poor statistical analysis and very small sample sizes which lead to hazy conclusions at best.  I could not find follow-up studies to confirm or deny these findings but if anyone has please post in the comment section.  I will add an update if they are confirmed or denied.  A snippet from the article:

Abstract

The relationship of elevated depression risk recently discovered among adult persons raised by same-sex parents with possible precipitating conditions in childhood has not previously been acknowledged. This study tests whether such inattention is supportable. Logistic regression based risk ratios were estimated from longitudinal measures of mental health outcomes observed in three waves (at ages 15, 22, and 28) of the US National Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 15,701). At age 28, the adults raised by same-sex parents were at over twice the risk of depression (CES-D: risk ratio 2.6, 95% CI 1.4–4.6) as persons raised by man-woman parents. These findings should be interpreted with caution. Elevated risk was associated with imbalanced parental closeness and parental child abuse in family of origin; depression, suicidality, and anxiety at age 15; and stigma and obesity. More research and policy attention to potentially problematic conditions for children with same-sex parents appears warranted.

1. Background

In research and policy settings, children in unique distress with same-sex parents are not supposed to exist. Most studies have reported “no differences” in well-being, most often using psychometric measures of depression or anxiety, supporting a lapse in policy attention to the potential needs of such children. Uniformly benign findings for this population have recently been challenged, however, by several original research efforts [], the rediscovery of older studies [], and the reanalysis of studies long thought to support “no differences” [].

The sparse and gendered nature of the same-sex parent population largely restricts research in this area to the examination of small samples of lesbian parents. Unfortunately, this difficulty has prompted an almost universal dependence on convenience samples [] recruited, with knowledge of study goals, from internet surveys, “LGBT events, bookstore and newspaper advertisements, word of mouth, networking, and youth groups” []. Reanalyses have confirmed, not surprisingly, the presence in such samples of strong ascertainment bias, social desirability bias, and/or positive reporting bias []. In most studies, lack of statistical significance using simple bivariate tests in such samples is then erroneously interpreted as strong evidence of “no differences” in the population, even when difference in estimates or effect sizes are substantively large and even though the sample is not representative [].

In fact, only four of the several dozen studies alleging “no differences” have examined a representative sample. The largest and most recent of these, Rosenfeld’s analysis of 3,174 same-sex parented children on the US Census, is discussed in Section 5. The other three are related studies based on a single sample, a group of 44 adolescents with lesbian parents captured on over 20,000 population-representative cases of the initial wave of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (“Add Health”) []. Sullins, however, recently found that most (27 of the 44) adolescents in this sample allegedly with same-sex parents were actually living with opposite-sex parents including, for most of them, their biological father as well as their mother. After removing the mixed cases, the remaining sample members fared significantly worse on psychometric measures of anxiety and autonomy than did their adolescent counterparts with opposite-sex parents, albeit comprising only 17 cases []. Other studies employing large representative samples have also found higher depressive symptoms, indicated by the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D []), among younger same-sex parented children [] and adults who report having had a same-sex-related parent at some point during childhood []. The design and methodology of Regnerus’ study were the subject of a brief but vigorous debate [], which turned largely on definitional issues [].

No study has yet explored the connection, if any, between late onset distress and precipitating conditions in children in this population, and no research reporting “no differences” has yet investigated parental child abuse or adult onset difficulties []. The present study aims to amend these gaps in the research. It improves on the sample limitations of prior studies by employing data that are both representative and longitudinal, following the corrected Add Health sample of adolescents with lesbian parents, the most well-regarded small sample used in this field to date, through Wave IV, thirteen years after the initial interview at age 15 (on average). It improves on prior methods by the use of standard psychometric scales, to the extent possible, and the estimation of relative risk by logistic regression models with appropriate survey weighting. As the first study to examine children raised by same-sex parents into early adulthood, this exploratory study aims to contribute new information for understanding of the effects of same-sex parenting through the life-course transition into early adulthood.

The analysis followed a grounded theory approach, first identifying the presence or absence of pertinent differences by family type and then developing and testing grounded hypotheses, drawing both from the observed bivariate characteristics of the data and prior research where applicable. For clarity the research presentation will also follow this order, with the formulation of hypotheses presented following initial bivariate results.

This is how toxic subjects like this are.  The same thing played out when The Bell Curve came out.  Though the evidence was rock solid, the attacks were relentless because nobody wants to address the difficult questions and implications surrounding IQ.  The publisher was quick to put out this “Expression of concern” over the article.  Damage control, as it were.

On behalf of Hindawi Limited, the publisher of Depression Research and Treatment, we would like to express our concern with the article titled “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents” published in Depression Research and Treatment in 2016 [].

The article has been cited to support arguments about same-sex marriage that Hindawi believes to be hateful and wrong. These arguments do not represent the views of Hindawi, our staff, or the editorial board of Depression Research and Treatment. We strongly condemn any attempt to justify hate speech or bigotry through reference to the scholarly record.

In June 2016, several readers raised concerns about this article. At that time, we evaluated the article’s peer review process and brought several concerns to the handling editor’s attention. These included: the study’s small sample of same-sex parents, the lack of discussion of other influences such as family breakup on the wellbeing of the children included in the study, the implied causation in the title “Invisible Victims,” and the potential conflict of interest implied by the author’s position as a Catholic priest.

The handling editor believed the article’s reviewers addressed these concerns, and the author made sufficient revisions to the article to address these flaws. In the editor’s opinion, the limitations of the study did not warrant further correction or retraction. As publisher, Hindawi does not overrule the editorial decisions of our academic editors in such cases.

Nevertheless, Hindawi felt it was important for the criticisms of this study to become part of the scientific record. We invited Dr. Nathaniel Frank, a critic of the article and director of the “What We Know” project (http://whatweknow.law.columbia.edu/) at Columbia Law School, to publish a letter to the editor in Depression Research and Treatment making these concerns visible to the journal’s readers []. That letter is available at https://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/3185067. We also published a subsequent response from Dr. Sullins [].

Whether the long-term outcomes are proven true or false, I have to applaud Dr Sullins for being brave enough to even ask the question.  Again, that is the main thrust of this post.  Yes, it’s a sensitive topic.  Yes, it will ruffle a lot of feathers in the current climate.  But the pursuit of the truth is important.  And if children truly are worse off in same-sex households isn’t it worth investigating that if there is seemingly credible evidence?  I completely agree that additional studies need to be done.  The initial study was funded by a Catholic group.  Which doesn’t necessarily mean it is biased but it opens the door.  It would be great if non-partisan groups did their own studies.  That is how science is supposed to work.  Dr Sullins issued a response to the publisher’s expression of concern which a few snippets are worth posting.  The entire response can be found here.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to Dr. Frank’s letter [] about my article [] and applaud Hindawi fostering a free and open exchange. Frank’s complaint that I “fudged” the sample to bias the results in ways that are “damning” to gay and lesbian parents is emphatically false. Frank’s claims are based on multiple confusions and errors, mischaracterize the state of knowledge, and use special pleading. To the extent some of his points have merit they tend to undermine not my study but rather others showing benign findings for children with same-sex parents and suggest I have if anything understated the level of harm for such children.

No Harm Studies: 74, or Fewer than 10? Frank characterizes my findings as an “outlier” from 74 studies collected on his website showing no disadvantage for children of gay or lesbian parents. But there are many other studies he did not select, which report difficulties in same-sex partnerships similar to my study. I cited three such studies concerning health difficulties and intimate partner violence (IPV). Messinger’s conclusion, for example, is very similar to mine: “concerns over ‘airing the dirty laundry’ of an already stigmatized community alongside researcher prejudice or indifference cannot justify treating GLB [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual] IPV victims as invisible, leaving them without support in a painful and potentially dangerous environment.” [] My study is not an outlier but is in line with the concerns and approach of these other studies.

Frank also does not mention that his website also includes four studies that do show disadvantage for children of gay or lesbian parents. Three of these studies employ three separate large population samples, finding similar levels of disadvantage []. By contrast, the 74 studies include only two or three which use population samples. The remainder are small convenience samples, typically recruited from sympathetic groups and settings, that are (in my view and that of detailed reviews) [] worthless for the question of child outcomes. These studies do not meet minimal scientific standards and are biased toward benign findings []. Asking patrons of a local LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] bookstore or gay friends network about child outcomes is like surveying a Bible study about religiosity: the rosy picture is misleading about the larger population. Excluding such nonrandom or biased samples, fewer than 10 of the 74 studies remain.

One last snippet:

I think I have addressed enough errors in Frank’s critique to establish that his criticisms of my study are unfounded and that my findings are well justified. However, I doubt this will be convincing to him or those sharing his perspective, because what appears to disturb them is not the study methods but the findings. I suspect no evidence will convince Frank that children with same-sex parents may face unique and heightened struggles and difficulties. It is right to be appalled at that thought, but the most useful response is to try to understand the problem better, so as to address the conditions or provide support necessary to ameliorate the problem, not deny the evidence.

And sadly, I think Dr Sullins is right.  Even if this was perfectly executed from a procedural standpoint, it will never be enough, because they don’t like the OUTCOME.  Which is the truly sad part, because in the end if that is the case then it’s the children who are the ones who suffer because of a political agenda.  We may not always like the truth.  It may hurt.  But one should ALWAYS take the truth rather than lie about it.  The more one lies to one’s self, the easier it becomes to justify worse and worse behavior.  Letting the evil one rule over yourself will always lead down a dark path.

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