Meta-analysis results on child development in LGBTQ+ families
According to a study published in BMJ Global Health, LGBTQ+ families perform as well or better than 'traditional' families with opposite-sex parents.
Rainbow families on the rise
In recent years, the number of children growing up in families with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer parents has increased. Despite the change in public attitudes, the parenting of 'rainbow' families still raises controversy; and whether the sexual orientation of parents affects family outcomes continues to be a subject of debate.
The researchers systematically examined 34 relevant studies published between January 1989 and April 2022 conducted in countries where same-sex relationships were legally recognised in order to find out whether there were differences in outcomes in certain areas between families with non-heterosexual parents and those with heterosexual parents.
The studies were subdivided according to various themes, including children's psychological health, physical health, gender role behaviour, gender identity/sexual orientation, school achievement, parental mental health and parental stress, parent-child relationships, relationship satisfaction, and social support.
An analysis of the results of 16 of the 34 studies showed that most family outcomes were similar between these two family types. And in some areas, such as the psychological health of children - particularly preschoolers - and child-parent relationships, these outcomes were actually better in LGBTQ+ families.
"Growing up with parents belonging to the LGBTQ+ community can confer certain advantages to children. They have been described as more tolerant of diversity and more attentive to younger children than children of heterosexual parents," the researchers explain.
The analysis indicated that LGBTQ+ parents did not perform better than families with heterosexual parents with regard to relationship satisfaction, mental health, parental stress or family functioning. Risk factors for poor outcomes for LGBTQ+ families included social stigma and discrimination, inadequate social support and cohabitation rather than parental marriage.
The results of the analytical synthesis (of 18 studies) showed that children who lived in families with LGBTQ+ parents were less likely to expect to identify as straight when they grew up than children who lived in 'traditional' families.
"It is possible that there are fewer gender stereotypes in families with LGBTQ+ parents and that this effect is positive," the researchers suggest. "Exploration of gender identity and sexuality may actually improve children's ability to succeed and live peacefully in a range of contexts."
The researchers acknowledge several limitations to their findings, such as the fact that the included studies were limited to countries where same-sex relationships have been legalised and where the social climate for these families is generally favourable. Most of the study participants were also from LGBTQ+ families and potentially influential demographic factors could not be taken into account.
However, the researchers conclude that children from LGBTQ+ families are not disadvantaged compared to children from families with different-sex parents.
This review showed that most family outcomes are similar between LGBTQ+ families and heterosexual families. Research on LGBTQ+ parents and their children has broadened our understanding of contemporary family life and contributed to our understanding of parenting and child development. One contribution of this review is the recognition that parental sexual orientation is not, in itself, an important determinant of child development. Another contribution of this review is that there are significant risk factors often associated with LGBTQ+ experience and family functioning, such as stigma, or poor social support.
According to the researchers, politicians, social, and health workers, and the community must work together to improve the situation of families regardless of sexual orientation. In the coming years we will need to better understand how communities around the world can support the positive development of all children of LGBTQ+ parents and how legal and political contexts affect their lives and their children.
- Zhang Y, Huang H, Wang M, Zhu J, Tan S, Tian W, Mo J, Jiang L, Mo J, Pan W, Ning C. Family outcome disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual families: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Glob Health. 2023 Feb;8(3):e010556. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2022-010556. PMID: 36878725.