New Research Finds Children of Lesbians Thriving and Equal to National Norms

November 02, 2005
News Office: Stephanie Levin (415) 502-6397

Children of lesbian families have no higher incidence of psychological or developmental problems than children in heterosexual families, according to a new report.

Titled Interviews with the 10-Year-Old Children, the report is the fourth analysis to be conducted by the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, a privately funded project that focuses on examining the social, psychological, and emotional development of children in lesbian families.

This is the first analysis to conduct interviews directly with the children of lesbians, says author Dr. Nanette Gartrell, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. She founded NLLFS in 1986.

The new report is published in the October quarterly issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

Social and cultural stigmatization creates unique challenges for children raised by lesbian families, but the new findings show that the children's psychological and social development remains equal with national norms, says Gartrell.

NLLFS includes a database of lesbian families whose children were conceived by donor insemination. The study follows 156 mothers and their families and is the largest investigation of lesbian families in the United States, according to Gartrell.

This is the fourth NLLFS report she has authored. Previous analyses looked at the personal profiles of prospective mothers during insemination and pregnancy, the formation of the lesbian family with a two-year-old child, and the relationship of five-year-olds in lesbian families to their peers.

For the newest report, interviews were conducted by telephone with children when they reached 10 years old. All questionnaires had previously been discussed with the mothers. There were 10 open-ended questions designed to assess the child's feelings about growing up in a lesbian household and about his or her experiences and responses to homophobia.

In addition, the mothers were interviewed separately by phone and asked questions about child behavior from a standardized test on this subject.

The analysis found that antisocial or aggressive behavior problems were lower than expected, and that 85 percent of the children excel academically. Fifty-seven percent of the children reported being completely open with their peers about the nature of their family structure, 39 percent were partially open, and 4 percent concealed information about their family structure.

Nearly half of the children reported experiencing verbal homophobia from their peers, and all who had experienced it found it painful.

These children showed more psychological stress than the children who did not encounter homophobia, notes Gartrell. This is the only health factor the study found with the children. Otherwise, the children are thriving and demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of diversity and tolerance.

Participant families in NLLFS originally resided in the metropolitan areas of Boston, Washington, DC, and San Francisco. Now with the fourth report, 27 families have moved to other areas of the country. NLLFS plans to follow children from inception to age 25. According to Gartrell, the study has a 92 percent retention rate.

Information about the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study is available online on this Web site.

UCSF is a leading university that consistently defines health care worldwide by conducing advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences, and providing complex patient care.

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