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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Results from a new nationwide study cast doubt on the common belief that children in single-parent households are better off living with their same-sex parent.

The research showed no evidence that a same-sex advantage shows up shortly after a family breaks up or even when the children reach adulthood, said Doug Downey, co-author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

Downey said the research should persuade judges involved in child custody cases that there’s no inherent advantage for girls to be placed with their mothers or boys with their fathers.

“Judges are sometimes making decisions about custody using faulty assumptions about what’s best for children,” he said. “It’s becoming clear that the sex of children and parents shouldn’t be a factor in making decisions about custody.”

Downey conducted the study with Brian Powell, a sociologist at Indiana University. Their results appear in a recent issue of the American Sociological Review.

The researchers examined data from three separate national surveys involving a total of 11,018 people who lived or had lived in single-parent households. They examined how the participants fared on more than 70 different measures, including relationships with parents and friends, grades, misbehavior in school and use of alcohol and drugs.

The results showed only one instance where children who lived with their same-sex parent fared better than others. In one of the surveys, children who lived with their same-sex parent were more likely to report that they felt in control of the events in their lives. However, this factor was not significant in the other two surveys.

Moreover, in one case, children showed an advantage for living with their opposite sex parent. In one of the surveys, children were less likely to become a parent (or to be expecting a child) if they lived with an opposite sex parent -- clearly an advantage.

Overall, it is hard to argue from these results that children show an advantage by living with a same-sex parent, Downey said.

A 1993 study by Powell and Downey made similar conclusions about the lack of a same-sex effect. But this study makes a stronger case because it included three separate surveys and not just one. In addition, this new study also considered and rejected two related arguments:

-- The results rejected the argument that children do better living with same-sex parents, but that the advantages don’t show up until adulthood. One survey the researchers examined looked at levels of happiness, satisfaction, income and education of adults who reported they lived in a single-parent household when they were 16 years old. The results showed no difference between those who had lived with their same-sex parent and those who had lived with their opposite-sex parent. -- Findings also rejected the belief that a same-sex advantage is only visible shortly after a family breakup. The researchers looked at children who went from a two-parent household to a single-parent household within the last two years. Again, they found no difference as a result of which parent had custody.

Judges and family law textbooks have published arguments advocating that children be placed with same-sex parents. But these arguments have been based mostly on what seems like common sense and not on any direct evidence, Downey said.

“We have believed that boys model themselves after their fathers and girls model themselves after their mothers,” Downey said. “The common conception is that there is a strong bond between mother and daughter, and that a boy needs a father to ‘become a man.’”

But Downey said children can find appropriate same-sex role models in many other settings, such as school. Moreover, some research has shown that the opposite-sex parents have greater influence on their children in some areas, such as gender role attitudes.

“Our results could be seen as advantageous to women seeking custody of their sons or men seeking custody of their daughters,” Downey said. “The best conclusion is that there is no reason to consider sex in making custody decisions.”


Contact: Douglas Downey, (614) 292-1352; Downey.32@osu.edu Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

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