In a NRO piece titled, "Lesbian Mothers' Children",
Mark Regnerus questions the validity and viability of producing new
studies based on the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study:
This month yielded yet another published study which received positive media attention
based on the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study. The NLLFS is
about to enter its third decade of following the same 78 respondents,
who were “planned” and born to lesbian mothers employing artificial
reproductive technology; in nearly all the families studied, the
children were being raised by their biological mother and her partner.
While any sociologist worth his or her degree can appreciate the
laborious task of keeping track of and reinterviewing the same group of
people over many years, this particular data-collection effort probably
ought to be retired.
No, my misgivings are due to the great likelihood that the data sources
the respondents themselves have been increasingly compromised,
placing the very validity and reliability of the data in question. How
The NLLFS employs a convenience sample, recruited entirely from
announcements posted “at lesbian events, in women’s bookstores, and in
lesbian newspapers” in Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. As
the late family sociologist Steven Nock warned,
the level of sample bias such an approach introduces is
significant. The lesbian parents whose children are being studied are
whiter (94 percent), more educated (67 percent college graduates), of
higher socioeconomic status (82 percent held professional or managerial
positions), and more politically motivated than lesbians who do not
frequent such “events” or bookstores, or who live in cities like San
Antonio or Kansas City, or in smaller towns across the country. (Aren’t
they important, too?) Anything that is correlated with educational
attainment, for example better health, more deliberative parenting,
greater access to social capital and educational opportunities for
children will be biased in analyses. Any claims about a population (in
this case, American lesbian parents) based on a subgroup that does not
represent the whole will be distorted, since its sample is far less
diverse (given what we know about it) than a representative sample would
be. Indeed, there’s nothing “national” about the NLLFS.
I have no objection at all to the collection of snowball-sample data, only to its popular use as a source of information about all children
of lesbian parents. If the NLLFS were simply used to understand the
world of lesbian parents and their children among the elites in those
three cities, then that would be just fine. But it’s not. In this case,
the practical result and conventional use of its findings and that is
key is to generalize to the population of lesbian parents across
America. While researchers themselves commonly note this limitation, it
is entirely lost in the translation and transmission of findings by the media to the public.
Read the entire piece on the NRO site.
Meanwhile, MercatorNet has an essay by Walter Schumm,
a Professor of Family Studies at Kansas State University, that looks at
how Regnerus' controversial study is similar to and different from
other studies in terms of methodology:
Use of mixed orientation households (MOMs). Much has been
made of the possibility that Regnerus succeeded in gathering data from
children from mixed orientation marriages (MOMs). However, many other
attempts to study GLB families have involved such marriages. One study,
for example, featured 72% of children who had been born into a previous
heterosexual marriage before joining a lesbian couple family at an
average age of over 4 years. However, the results of such studies are
heralded as showing us how well lesbian families are doing, even though they involve many of the same limitations vis-À-vis MOMs as Regnerus’ NFSS study.
Funding issues. With respect to funding, many published
studies have been funded by pro-gay advocacy groups and yet few report
doubts about the influence of such funding on research outcomes; but
since the NFSS was funded by conservative groups, such doubts are
brought to the forefront.
Outcomes for children. There is considerable research
detailed in my commentary in SSR that notes the instability of lesbian
and gay parental relationships, the tendency of their children to be
involved in substance abuse, and the tendency of such children to
experiment with or adopt same-sex sexual behaviors or identities --
results similar to those that Regnerus reported. In other words, at
least some of Regnerus’s findings were very similar to results from many
other studies from around the world.
Schumm expresses points of
measured concern with Regnerus' methods, but concludes that attacks on
Regnerus are not based on a fair reading of his research, especially in
light of related studies:
As my own review of other studies shows, however, the wholesale ad
hominem attacks on Professor Regnerus and the complete dismissal of all
of his methods and professionalism continue to be unjustified, even
though his research as all research - deserves careful scrutiny. His
decisions about research design and analysis were within the ball park
of what other credible and distinguished researchers have been doing
within the past decade.
Read Schumm's entire article.