Educational psychology

In the Netherlands, children of lesbian and gay parents do better at school

gay parents kids

A new study from the Netherlands finds that children raised by gay or lesbian parents do better at school than children raised by heterosexual parents.

Previous studies of academic outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents have mostly relied on small sample sizes. But this new study, published last week in the journal American Sociological Review, includes data on 2,971 children with same-sex parents (2,786 lesbian couples and 185 gay male couples), and about 1.2 million children with different-sex (i.e. heterosexual) parents.

Advantage of gay parents continues into high school

The study included data on all children born and raised in the Netherlands between 1998 and 2007. Their educational performance was tracked until 2019.

The results show that children raised by same-sex parents from birth significantly outperformed children with different-sex parents on an important standardized test. The test in question is the “CITO test,” which covers reading and comprehension skills, math, and more. It is considered a high-stakes test, as it partly determines which type of high school the child will attend.

The scores of children raised by same-sex parents were 0.14 standard deviations higher than children raised by a mother and father.

This advantage also continued into secondary education (i.e. high school). Children raised by same-sex parents from birth are 4.8% more likely to graduate than children with different-sex parents. These results do not appear to be moderated by the child’s sex, ethnicity, or family structure.

Results call reigning theories into question

The authors are quick to point out that these results pertain to the Netherlands, not other countries or contexts. The Netherlands, after all, was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage (in 2001). It also has a more supportive cultural and legal context for same-sex parents than most other countries do. And about 96% of the Dutch agree that gay people should have the same rights as heterosexuals.

The findings of the present study seem to diminish support for some popular theories about child-raising. One, for example, is “specialization theory,” which suggests that children need a parent of each sex because parents differ in their parenting styles and teach different skills.

Another, “kin selection theory,” suggests that because parents incur various costs in raising children, they will invest more in their biological children. And because at least one parent in a gay or lesbian couple is not the child’s biological parent, the theory goes, kin selection theory predicts that parental investment will be lower for same-sex parents than for different-sex parents.

Gay parents and higher socioeconomic status

Instead, the authors write, these results support the idea that same-sex parents generally have higher socioeconomic status than straight parents. This is due to the time-consuming and costly procedures required for same-sex couples to have children. The costs for adoption in the Netherlands, for example, typically range between 15,000 and 40,000 euros. And the costs for IVF are about 1,500 euros per treatment.

This higher socioeconomic status, in turn, results in better school outcomes. “Indeed,” the authors write, “once we controlled for socioeconomic variables, the positive association between residing with same-sex parents and test scores dropped significantly.”

Likewise, same-sex parents may have had higher motivation to become parents, and parental motivation is highly correlated with education.

A double dose of motherhood

Yet another factor is that children with lesbian parents may get a “double dose of motherhood.”

Previous literature has found that mothers spend more time with their children, which is beneficial for child development. “As a result,” the authors write, “families consisting of two mothers may exhibit an increased effort in caretaking, communication, and intimacy with their children.” 

Study:School Outcomes of Children Raised by Same-Sex Parents: Evidence from Administrative Panel Data
Authors: Deni Mazrekaj, Kristof De Witte, and Sofie Cabus
Published in: American Sociological Review
Publication date: September 28, 2020
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122420957249
Photo: by javier trueba via Unsplash

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