You will not, however, witness very many scholarly misgivings about a new published study analyzing data from the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS), even though I’ve just offered a close analogy of its sampling and comparative strategy. I do not bear ill will toward the research team; data collection is no simple task. I won’t impugn the motivations of the author and his collaborators. Those vary widely, and everyone has his own. I don’t care about the source of the funding. But the study deserves some critical commentary.
The authors declare that the “study aims to describe the physical, mental and social wellbeing of Australian children with same-sex attracted parents, and the impact that stigma has on them.” They conclude that “children with same-sex attracted parents score higher than population samples on a number of parent-reported measures of child health.” The study has generated headlines such as this one from the Washington Post: “Children of same-sex couples happier and healthier than peers, research shows.”
But we cannot learn this from the ACHESS study, because of these two sentences in the study’s methodology section:
The convenience sample was recruited using online and traditional recruitment techniques, accessing same-sex attracted parents through news media, community events and community groups. Three hundred and ninety eligible parents contacted the researchers…
The ACHESS’s interim report, issued just under two years ago, foreshadowed the positive conclusions of the recently-published article—in the same journal, no less—and had more to say about its sampling approach:
Initial recruitment will . . . include advertisements and media releases in gay and lesbian press, flyers at gay and lesbian social and support groups, and investigator attendance at gay and lesbian community events . . . Primarily recruitment will be through emails posted on gay and lesbian community email lists aimed at same-sex parenting. This will include, but not be limited to, Gay Dads Australia and the Rainbow Families Council of Victoria.
I don’t know if there’s any other way to say this than to suggest that… this is not the way to build a sense of average same-sex households with children. To compare the results from such an unusual sample with that of a population-based sample of everyone else is just suspect science. And I may be putting that too mildly.
This is not the first time a study has been biased, in fact the American Psychological Association even promotes these biased studies.
Here’s the abstract from a study published in the peer-reviewed journal “Social Science Research“.
In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued an official brief on lesbian and gay parenting. This brief included the assertion: “Not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents” (p. 15). The present article closely examines this assertion and the 59 published studies cited by the APA to support it. Seven central questions address: (1) homogeneous sampling, (2) absence of comparison groups, (3) comparison group characteristics, (4) contradictory data, (5) the limited scope of children’s outcomes studied, (6) paucity of long-term outcome data, and (7) lack of APA-urged statistical power. The conclusion is that strong assertions, including those made by the APA, were not empirically warranted. Recommendations for future research are offered.
And some the findings:
- 26 of 59 APA studies on same-sex parenting had no heterosexual comparison groups.
- In comparison studies, single mothers were often used as the hetero comparison group.
- No comparison study had the statistical power required to detect a small effect size.
- Definitive claims were not substantiated by the 59 published studies.
In comparison to these bad studies, we’ve had the other studies showing the harm that gay parenting does to children, as well as studies showing that children raised without a mother or raised without a father do worse than children raised with both their parents.