Do children need a mother and a father?

This interesting press release about a forthcoming article in the Journal of #### landed in my inbox this morning. I thought I’d share:

Do children need both a mother and a father?
New Study Examines If the Gender of Parents Matter

The presumption that children need both a mother and a father is widespread. It has been used by proponents of Proposition 8 to argue against same-sex marriage and to uphold a ban on same-sex adoption.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Barack Obama endorsed the vital role of fathers in a 2008 speech: “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation.”

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The lead article in the February issue of Journal of Marriage and Family challenges the idea that “fatherless” children are necessarily at a disadvantage or that men provide a different, indispensable set of parenting skills than women.

“Significant policy decisions have been swayed by the misconception across party lines that children need both a mother and a father. Yet, there is almost no social science research to support this claim. One problem is that proponents of this view routinely ignore research on same-gender parents,” said sociologist Timothy Biblarz of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Extending their prior work on gender and family, Biblarz and Judith Stacey of NYU analyzed relevant studies about parenting, including available research on single-mother and single-father households, gay male parents and lesbian parents. “That a child needs a male parent and a female parent is so taken for granted that people are uncritical,” Stacey said.

In their analysis, the researchers found no evidence of gender-based parenting abilities, with the “partial exception of lactation,” noting that very little about the gender of the parent has significance for children’s psychological adjustment and social success.

As the researchers write: “The social science research that is routinely cited does not actually speak to the questions of whether or not children need both a mother and a father at home. Instead proponents generally cite research that compares [heterosexual two-parent] families with single parents, thus conflating the number with the gender of parents.”

Indeed, there are far more similarities than differences among children of lesbian and heterosexual parents, according to the study. On average, two mothers tended to play with their children more, were less likely to use physical discipline, and were less likely to raise children with chauvinistic attitudes. Studies of gay male families are still limited.

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However, like two heterosexual parents, new parenthood among lesbians increased stress and conflict, exacerbated by general lack of legal recognition of commitment. Also, lesbian biological mothers typically assumed greater caregiving responsibility than their partners, reflecting inequities among heterosexual couples.

“The bottom line is that the science shows that children raised by two same-gender parents do as well on average as children raised by two different-gender parents. This is obviously inconsistent with the widespread claim that children must be raised by a mother and a father to do well,” Biblarz said.

Stacey concluded: “The family type that is best for children is one that has responsible, committed, stable parenting. Two parents are, on average, better than one, but one really good parent is better than two not-so-good ones. The gender of parents only matters in ways that don’t matter.”

This study is published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact scholarlynews@wiley.com.

To view the abstract for this article please click here.

To request a copy of the article or to arrange an interview with a either Timothy Biblarz or Judith Stacey, please contact Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu (Biblarz), James Devitt at james.devitt@nyu.edu (Stacey), or Bethany Carland-Adams at bcarland@wiley.com.

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2 Replies to “Do children need a mother and a father?”

  1. Interesting article, reaching seemingly logical conclusion that it is the quality of parent(s) rather than number or gender that determines childresn’ success.

    It would have been helpful if the article had extended itself to include some specific data on childrens’ success in education, career, income, etc. I’m sure the data is available in the article on which this one is bas4ed, but more data here would have helped.

  2. This thorny debate is rife in England as well as America. I’ve just been reading an article in the Times by Carol Sarler which strikes me as embittered and venomous feminism and an especially spiteful dismissal both of men generally and of the needs and rights of children. It was called something like “Of Course Children Don’t Need Fathers” and continued in similar stance and tone, plucking simplistic and inane reductions from social history and the animal kingdom. The piece to my ear reads merely as though she were the purveyor of a patronising sexism that undoubtedly she feels women have been subjected to since time immemorial, and she seems throughout to be referring to children as if they were eternally babies. For it to be claimed that a child lacking a father is an indifferent matter is a travesty of the familial ideal, for such a situation may invoke psychological turmoil and emotional numbness in the growing child and may well be exacerbated further from a mother’s distorted version of events in attempts to mollify the child’s curiosity and to cement solidarity in the mother and child bond. Once the identity determines itself in adolescence, if not before, the sensitive child will want to know the man who is part of his or her ineradicable nature. All I know for certain is that if I had never known my biological father my life would by comparison be impoverished.

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