High school graduation rates among children of same-sex households

This is a really interesting study into the effect of gay parenting on children because the sample is not one of convenience but comes straight off the Canadian Census returns. You can read the full paper here.

Let’s look at the model that was built.


allen-table6I’ll let Allen explain the results.

Table 5 reports on three logit regressions, where the dependent variable equals 1 if the child has graduated from high school. All of the regressions in this table control for whether or not the family moved with the past year. Table 8 in the appendix reports on another three logit regressions with the same dependent variable and the same right hand side variables, except for the variable used to control for family mobility—it uses the mobility measure ‘‘did child move within past 5 years.’’ There is no qualitative difference in the estimates when using the different mobility controls.

Table 5 only reports the logit coefficient, its standard error, the odds ratio, and marginal effects, for the household type variables in order to keep the tables a reasonable size. The log of the odds ratio is the logit, which is a linear combination of the parameters and exogenous variables. The odds ratio is found by taking the exponential of both sides of the logit equation. The odds ratio has the nice property of an easy interpretation. The marginal effect equals (qy/qx), where y is the graduation rate and x is one of the right hand side variables. The different columns result from different types of controls. Column (1) includes controls for child characteristics, and these include: province, visible minority, disabled, mobility, urban, age, family size, family income, female, and same race. Column (2) adds the parental education controls: did the mother/father graduate from high school, and did the mother/father have a graduate degree. Column (3) adds the parental marital status variables found in Table 2. Before examining the results of Tables 5, some comment on the unreported results is warranted. Among the child characteristics, being disabled or having moved in the recent past reduces the odds of graduation (on average, to about 50 and 75 % respectively). Living in an urban area, being female, and having all family members the same race raises the odds of graduation (on average, by 30, 60, and 35 % respectively). Parental education matters a great deal: if the parents have graduated from high school, the child is almost twice as likely to do so. Finally, marital history has the expected effects. Any marital disruption reduces the odds of a child graduating from high school. For any given household type variable the odds ratio and level of statistical significance is generally robust to the different specifications. That is, changing the controls does not change the parameter estimates for the association of graduation rates and household type in large ways.

Table 5 shows the associations between family type and child graduation. In all cases, the odds of a child with gay or lesbian parents completing high school are lower, by a considerable margin, compared to children of married opposite sex parents. For gay and lesbian households, adding the parental education controls to the base controls lowers the odds of a child graduating for same-sex families. This is because gay and lesbian homes are characterized by high levels of parent education which contributes to child graduation, and so conditional on this the odds of a child graduating are even lower. When all controls are used, including those for parental marital status, the conditional graduation rate odds ratios are reasonably similar between the two types of same-sex couples: 0.69 for gays and 0.60 for lesbians using the 1 year mobility measure. The difference between the two point estimates for gay and lesbian parents in column (3) is not significant. To put this in another context, the marginal effect on the probability of graduating for children of samesex homes is a reduction of approximately 6–9 % points. The point estimates for gay households are always statistically significant at the 5 % level, but the estimate for lesbian households in column (3) is not.39

Table 6 repeats the column (2) and (3) regressions of Table 5, but this time separating girls and boys. This table shows that the particular gender mix of a same sex household has a dramatic difference in the association with child graduation. Consider the case of girls first. Regardless of the controls and whether or not girls are currently living in a gay or lesbian household, the odds of graduating from high school are considerably lower than any other household type. Indeed, girls living in gay households are only 15 % as likely to graduate compared to girls from opposite sex married homes. In all cases for girls the estimates are measured with precision. The point estimates for boys are considerably different. Looking at equation (4) in Table 6, boys in lesbian homes are 76 % as likely to graduate, while boys in gay homes are 61 % more likely to graduate compared to boys in opposite sex married homes. However, none of these estimates are statistically significant. The results from Table 5 mask this gender difference, and the significant effect found in Table 5 column (3) for gay households is clearly being driven by the strong daughter effect.

The different results for the household gender mix are fascinating, especially since this difference is not found in single parent households. Table 6 shows that boys do better than girls in single parent homes, but the difference is not nearly as pronounced as in same sex households. Looking at the unconditional graduation rates (with standard errors in parentheses) for gay households, sons achieve 0.72 (0.074), while daughters achieve 0.43 (0.090). For lesbian households, son’s graduation rates are 0.48 (0.060), and daughter’s have 0.55 (0.055). Based simply on these unconditional measures, sons do better with fathers, and daughters do better with mothers. At this state, such a result is an interesting empirical finding, and one worthy of further investigation. On the one hand, it seems this result is inconsistent with any type of discrimination theory for the lower graduation rates among children of same-sex households. Or, a discrimination theory would have to be modified to include the household gender mix. Within the child development literature and pop culture, there is the belief that mothers and fathers provide different parenting inputs  that are not perfectly substitutable. These results would be consistent with this notion, but further research is necessary to show any causality.

It’s worth pointing out that Potter did some similar research and also looked into family transitions. He found that once you included those, same-sex parenting became less significant in explaining differing educational outcomes of children. That said, Allen’s research is hugely significant because it has an enormous same-sex parenting sample (over 8,000 compared to 248 for Regenerus) and also the nature of that sample avoids many of the previous problems for research in this area.

Currently, the 2006 Canada census has several strengths compared to any other data set. First, it uses information from a country where same-sex couples have enjoyed all taxation and government benefits since 1997, and legal same-sex marriage since 2005. As Biblarz and Savci note, such legalization reduces the stress and stigma of homosexuality, and encourages honest participation in census questions. Second, not only does the census provide a large random sample, but married and common law same-sex couples and their children are self identified. This is an important advantage over the US census. Third, because the child and parent records are linked together, the marital status and educational levels of the parents can be controlled for when analyzing child performance. Finally, because of the relatively large sample size, there is enough power to not only separate gay from lesbian households, but also enough to examine the gender mix of same-sex households.

Simply put, it’s hard to argue with this research without impugning the whole Canadian Census programme. From that census we have a robust piece of research suggesting that children of same-sex parents are c. 10% less likely to graduate from high school than children of married couples.

Let the debate begin…

61 Comments on “High school graduation rates among children of same-sex households

    • Why do you find it incomprehensible? Are the numbers too complex for you to understand, or do you not understand why children of gay parents are likely to have such poor academic results, or perhaps some other reason?

        • The way I look at it is this – if you throw a coin 10 times and get heads 6 times, that’s normal. If you throw it 100 times and get heads 60 times, it’s noteworthy, if you throw 1,000 times and get 600 heads it’s suspicious. And so on.

          Then you throw other coins to provide a comparison.

          It’s a bit like that. But on steroids ;-)

  1. Quite understandable. One must remember that census data provides information from which hypotheses may be generated, and that drawing conclusions as to cause and effect without a controlled study is fraught with error. All the same, It is a shame that society has already decided that this grand human experiment must continue.

  2. The report accurately concludes: “The question is: why? This study suggests further work is necessary to narrow down the source of this difference.” I agree that the 65% difference is important and not to be ignored, but I am unsure what larger point you are making. One of the issues that the report did not discuss, unless I missed it, is the nature of the parent-child relationship considering that most children from same-sex couples are likely to have been adopted thus the more obvious comparison in such a case would be to compare them with adopted children of opposite sex couples and then take into account the age of adoption. As I said above, I am not disputing the evidence, I just think more analysis is required and the difference explained.

      • That’s quite true.
        But in our case and in many like us who adopted that long ago that our kids have been through the whole educational system, it is our reflection that we often were in a position to take children that many others had already rejected.

        I can reflect like this because I stayed in touch with the panel that approved us over 20 years ago, becoming a member and then its chair. We have only been able to jointly adopt since the last day of 2005, Canada since 2000, I think. Even after I joined the panel and after 2005 those children going to gay couples were the “hard to place” children and in some (possibly many) places I understand that continues.

        I have tried to read the material here and have failed to understand if the sort of factors I mention have some bearing.
        Our lads would not be amongst those who would graduate.
        I am concerned, I want to know more.
        Can we discover if what is our experience has any bearing here?

      • Peter, I know that, I can think of a few couples I know personally where that would be the case – perhaps I ought have used ‘many’ or ‘some’ rather than ‘most’ – but I think we need to keep in the back of our mind that we may not be comparing like with like.

  3. I note that the author, an Economist not a social sciences expert, is an adviser to the antigay Ruth Institute

    I find it interesting in discussing these data that he claims that those data supporting his claim that the children of lesbian parents perform less well is reported as statistically significant but those data which show (as one would expect) that boys with two gay male parents perform significantly better than boys (more than half as well again) in conventional male-female married heterosexual households, telling. As a criminologist (a social sciences academic discipline) I have to report that boys typically perform better in any household, including with a single parent, where that parent is of the same gender: ie boys perform academiocally (in the UK) when they have a positive male role model, and girls perform better when they have a positive female role model.
    On a tangental note, I must say how much I enjoy reading your blog Peter since discovering it by change. It is always a good sign when a Humanist like me can read a Christian blog and feel better informed and given a refreshing insight into orthodox Christian thinking without being repelled by certain current Christian moral obsessions.

      • I am grateful for the information on the author.

        Perhaps Peter would have been more cautious with his comments and headline if he had known who was responsible for the analysis.

        I am not a statistician but the outcomes of our kids might need to be compared with those who stayed within the care system ……
        But, I see now that this was just being used as a rod to beat us with.

        • The analysis is good. Where it is statistically significant it needs to be addressed. Where it isn’t people need to be careful in what conclusions they draw.

            • I don’t think it’s as simple as that. For some, yes, and that’s why they’ll jump on anything that seems to denigrate gay people (see how Paul Cameron’s work still keeps being used by Mainstream). But beyond this there is a serious social policy question. For example, if you have to face a child for adoption and you know that if she goes to couple A rather than couple B she is twice as likely to end up with a degree and a good career in 20 years, who would you choose?

              • This assumes that better educated lives are more worthwhile. The middle class have more degrees. Should only the middle class be allowed to adopt?

                  • I am saying that this is setting up a false dichotomy and the statistics may not be taking into account significant factors I mention above.

                    Sadly there are thousands of children looking for loving families when people are approved after a long, intrusive and exhaustive process their abilities etc are considered against the needs of individuals within this immense pool of kids often housed in completely inappropriate environments.

                    There has been work to show that outcomes for black kids were better if they were placed with black families. For some time black kids were only placed with black families, but as the number of black kids coming into care was quite high and the number of black families looking for adoption somewhat low this meant an ever increasing number of black kids stayed in the care system.

                    Now it is accepted that the outcomes for all children are better in adoptive families than spending a life in the care system.

                    • And the reason we know this (outcomes better in adoptive families) because of the kind of quantitative research above.

                      I understand the point you are making. If we have a supply shortage of adoptive parents it makes sense to place children with a couple (or single person) who will provide a family. And in this circumstance a gay couple is obviously a better choice than staying in care. But surely you would agree that in the situation of an oversupply of potential adoptive parents (oh happy day!) then it behoves adoption panels to take into account which parents would on average produce better outcomes for the children.

                      Whenever someone complains to me about gay adoption I ask them how many children they have themselves adopted. The stony silence often makes my point for me.

              • Peter, there is an excellent scene in Scrubs where Dr Cox and JD are discussing JD’s comment that he ought to marry Kim because children statistically do better with two parents and so on. Dr Cox replies: “Statistics show? Who cares what statistics show? Look at medicine. 80% of people with pancreatic cancer die within 5 years and 95% of appendectomies occur with zero complications but we both know cases of pancreatic cancer patients that lived and unfortunately appendicitis patients that unfortunately passed. Statistics mean nothing to the individual; you’re either going to be a good parent to that kid or you’re not.” Now granted this is a TV comedy, but I think the logic here is fine. We must take each individual case on its own merit.

            • That is unfair. Plenty of ordinary decent people feel that disadvantaged children do best – as all children do – with a mother and a father, as nature intended. Let us not forget that it is the overturning of this basic principle that has led to Roman Catholic adoption agencies – with their excellent record of placing ‘difficult’ children – being closed down, and therefore leaving these children languising in care homes.

              • That is an unfortunate myth and sadly it was nurtured by spokesmen for the RC Church despite the fact that they knew the truth.

                Only one very tiny agency decided to close, all the others rebranded with somewhat less obvious ties to the Church and are flourishing and growing.

                But most significantly all remaining RC agencies supported single adopters, even single gay adopters, unmarried couples and divorced people. This mantra “every child deserves a married mother and father” which I actually heard said several times was a total distortion of both the truth and practice of the Roman Catholic agencies.

                • Indeed Martin. Also, it might be in everyone’s interests to steer clear of the catholic church’s record when it comes to the care and nurture of children.

                • So what? So what if it was only one small adoption agency? They still had an excellent record of placing severely disadvantaged children with married couples. It is now enshrined in law that any adoption agency who adheres to the belief that children thrive best with both a mother and a father need not bother. On that basis, perhaps all parents who hold the same belief should have their children removed from their care.

                  In the US, where gay adoption has been legal for much longer, we are now seeing the children of gay couples talking about their deep feelings of grief and loss over the deliberate deprivation of either a mother or a father. How long before Peter is posting stats on his blog about the anguish caused to these children?

                  This is no reflection on the ability of gay men or women to love and care for children. It is the loss of the ‘other’ that is so damaging.

                  • Well, I was making a more general case.
                    That case made clear the fact that all bar one RC adoption agencies decided not to close. All could have made that decision. I see Mr William Oddie finds this outcome rather confusing.

                    No UK agency places children. The control of the children was taken from the agencies decades ago. Agencies select and prepare prospective adopters who are offered to the various social workers who are looking for prospective parents.

                    I believe you will find that all those who are involved in the fostering/adoption of children would support the view that all children should best be raised within the loving family of their biological parents. Everything thereafter is something of a compromise.

                    It is beyond fanciful to suggest that this view or any view has been outlawed here in the UK, just as it is bizarre to suggest that placing a child with single or same sex parents is an act of deliberate deprivation. As I have made clear elsewhere on this thread the needs of some children mean they cannot be placed with a man and woman.

                    It is some years since I was involved with what was happening in the US, but back then there were something approaching 500,000 children in the care system and some 100,000 available immediately for adoption with around 26,000 potential adopters at any one time. Even bearing in mind this disparity there is a huge misfit between the declared wants of the adopters and the available children.

                    No married couple are being denied the child they want to suit single or gay couples, no child is being deprived deliberately, there are just not enough, nowhere near enough people who will offer care for these children. Adopted children often experience deep emotional problems, but their outcomes are better than those who stay within the care system.

                    • Well I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that. Apart from the odd skirmish I have had with various branches of the social services (who I think are guilty of Groupthink and will not accommodate any other worldview) I personally know of two families who have been turned down, apart from the countless stories one reads about where couples have been rejected on totally spurious grounds. Both of these wanted an older mixed race child and would have been happy with a disabled child. One couple had already adopted a mixed-race child in the US. (The system is different over there – they had to pay quite a large sum of money upfront before the various processeses even started, which could account for the shortage of potential adopters.) Unfortunately for them, both couples were Christians. Both (they don’t know each other) feel this was the reason they were rejected. I know them both well, and cannot see any reason for their failure to adopt.

                    • I am not quite sure what you don’t believe but am picking up the general dissatisfaction with the system.
                      Firstly it’s worth noting that Christian organisations still control/manage the largest proportion of the sector preparing adoptive/foster families and so while there are some credible ant-Christian stories you will realise that most Christians have no problems.
                      Though it is likely if you say in answer to a question on what you would do if your child said they were gay that you would love them just the same and send them for reparative therapy, you will not progress to the end – even in the Christian controlled organisations..
                      In the organisation I was part of people were rejected as prospective adopters. Some of those rejections were brought into the public domain, there is not one where I think it was wrong to reject the applicant. It is a difficult and deeply emotive area.
                      The shortage of those who will long-term foster or adopt is even more critical here in the UK. Even with changes recently made by the government to help speed the process we need four times the present applicants to begin making an impact on the huge numbers of young people inappropriately placed while they wait for a loving home.

                      I realise that what I say is unlikely to change your view, but I hope you will see that it is very easy to jump into “Christian persecution” mode here …………

                    • I personally know of two Christian couples who have been turned down as foster parents or had kids taken away from them. One couple had a very good record and don’t know why the kids were taken away, but they suspect it was because they were taking them to Church. The other couple were asked a direct question about their views on sexual behaviour and were naive enough to give an honest answer. They were told by the social worker (who became very aggressive) that not only would they not foster, but they would be blacklisted by the council and would never work with children in any capacity again. One of them was a high school teacher. These were all people of good character and common sense (not deluded religious wackos). Yes, these are anacdotes, but when you have a lot of these anecdotes added together, you have a problem.

                      I’m guessing the Christians you dealt with, Martyn, either were a little more diplomatic with the truth when confronted with the problem questions, or else were dealing with social workers who were a bit better at saying something like ‘hmm … we need to discuss the sensitivities around this issue …’ rather than ‘you’re just bad and wrong and a grave danger to the welfare of children’.

                    • Several things here – firstly, I would not ‘send’ anybody for reparative therapy. Not because I don’t believe it can work – I know that it can – but because it is something which has to come from themselves.

                      You are too right that I have issues with the system. What would you say, for instance, if someone were to come to you having publicly admitted that they have had sex with “easily over a thousand people”. “I like sex with 16, 17, 18 year old boys particularly, its getting harder for me to get them but I’m still finding them….I hope between the age of 43 and the time I die I can have sex with another thousand, that would be awesome, even if I have to buy them, of course, not a problem, you pay for all kinds of entertainment and pleasure.”

                      When asked whether he thought he had taken emotional or physical advantage of some of the thousand people he had slept with, he replied that he thought that team sports were “more damaging” to adolescents than sex. He went on to claim: “The damage that’s caused by child molestation is socially constructed by the western world;” he contrasted this to other cultures where children engage in sexual activity with adults as a rite of passage.

                      He said that he and his boyfriend like to travel on cruise ships because “it’s like sex tourism, which is just amazing” and “I always screw the dancers”. He went on to say “we stop at a different port every night, go to a gay club every night and have sex with people….you don’t need to know their names”.

                      I expect you know who I am talking about. Yet he has managed to acquire two baby boys (by surrogacy, not adoption.) I personally would not allow him anywhere near children. And now I learn that he employs a MALE nanny! Is he insane? Does he have ANY idea of the needs of babies and small children?

                      Yet he has two small children now, and my friends mentioned previously (both married couples, whose sexual history I don’t know but would be willing to bet does not compare with the above) do not.

                    • Are you suggesting surrogacy as an alternative to your friends?.
                      I have known several couples who have gone that road after they were rejected for adoption.

                    • I think not. I suspect surrogacy is for the rich. There are ethical issues too about creating babies to order for sale.

                      This doesn’t solve the problems faced by the children brought up by same-sex couples.

                    • Fit and willing adoptive parents should not be rejected on spurious grounds: you could not be more right. This is why adoption by gay couples is to be celebrated. Of course, there will be gay couples who are rightly turned down for reasons unrelated to their sexuality. There will also be Christians who are rightly turned down for reasons unrelated to their being Christians.

                    • “I believe you will find that all those who are involved in the fostering/adoption of children would support the view that all children should best be raised within the loving family of their biological parents. Everything thereafter is something of a compromise.”

                      Just out of interest, does that mean that you disagree with couples who use sperm donation or surrogate arrangements? Some people try to argue that these families are superior because their children are planned rather than happening by accident after a glass of wine, but that doesn’t seem to be quite your position.

                • I’m chuckling a little reading this, I have heard this somewhere before!

                  All those involved in fostering/adoption are putting the best interests of the children at the heart of the matter.
                  Sadly there are far too few people willing and able to offer a loving home to the children in care and I too have challenged those fundamentally opposed to placing children with our like to step up to the mark and so overwhelm the system that we don’t get a look in.

                  But we need a little reality check, I feel.
                  In addition to the information already given on this thread it’s important to realise that many of these young people come with deep and lasting wounds as well as a multitude of disabilities.
                  It is not uncommon to have to find a home for a child where there are no males present, and much more rarely where there are no females.
                  There are some children who could only be placed with a single person.

                  Historically it is true to say that married couples came to adoption services with strong expectations. They took the babies and under threes, the fit and unblemished.
                  It is, I believe, no accident that all the gay people who are our age and whose children came through the care system have children with complex special needs. All of those I know rejoice in our kids, they were (are!) the making of us, but it may have some bearing on the sort of analysis we are discussing here.

                  Finally, I have been out of the panel for some years now but still give some help to those who ask.
                  A large number of adoptions happen within families. In two recent cases I have helped with family members have adopted the healthy kids while leaving the disabled kids to the care system.
                  Just as a note, two of the disabled kids from one of those families went to a gay couple.

  4. It is truth of statistical analysis that a correlation does not demonstrate a cause. The relevant factor/s in the different educational outcomes of the children involved could be unrelated to the gender/s of their parents. There are echoes of the way that Jack Straw framed the question of child abuse within the Pakistani community:


    While the correlation is itself analytically important, you’d be hard-pressed to show that someone’s being of Pakistani descent was the *relevant* factor in explaining the statistical preponderance of abuse in that community.

    It could be some third factor — and in the case of lesbian and gay parents, I find it quite conceivable that social stigma against the lesbian and gay parents could affect the outcomes of their children. If this were the case, many would still blame the parents — but it should, of course, be those doing the stigmatising who are morally responsible.

  5. Found it in the spam. You must have been naughty on someone else’s website.

    The idea that someone who does statistics in a different area can’t do it in this one is a nonsense. That’s like saying a surgeon who normally fixes legs shouldn’t be allowed to fix arms – the skill sets are exactly the same and as long as you understand the peculiarities of the particular data you are working with there is no problem. I regularly move from one dataset to another to another with different clients – at the end of the day it’s just data.

    The complaint about average age of children being lower in some sub-samples and therefore skewing the results is utterly misleading. The regressions control for age of child (this is clearly stated) and so this is not an issue. One might go as far as to suggest that the person suggesting this is a problem has not read the paper properly.

    The Odds Ratio issue is correct and subtle and that’s why Allen reports marginal effect.

    I agree with the critique of the assertion by Allen that since Canada is progressive in it’s actualised social policy towards homosexuals that therefore lower graduation rates can’t be connected with social stigmatisation. This is nonsense – it’s very clear that even in a progressive legislative environment discrimination still occurs.

  6. Does the census differentiate between children whose parents come out as gay and move in with a same sex partner when they are teens/older children (presumably you have to compare this with the outcomes for children from divorce generally rather than stable heterosexual families) and those who have parents who have always lived a gay lifestyle. My experience with a friend of my daughter’s whose mother moved into a lesbian relationship was that it was very upsetting for a heterosexual teen. She ended up being turfed out of the house after a family argument……. not great in itself for her GCSEs! Amazingly she achieved A levels while living in a homeless hostel, but I think she was pretty bright.

    • Obviously lots of other factors here apart from sexuality ….. but maybe there often are, which would partly explain the difference in outcomes.

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