Go figure

Adoptive parents invest more time and financial resources in their children than do biological parents, because (and who would have thought?) “…they really want children.”

So says a national study of 13,000 households just published in the American Sociological Review. The study corrects for the methodological flaws of earlier research that only compared families headed by “married biological parents” to blended families and single parent households. The findings from such research are frequently cited by anti-gay activists to erroneously claim that children are harmed by having same sex parents, when such a conclusion is unrelated to the research (not to mention refuted by studies that actually include same sex parent households).

The new study instead compares two-parent biological parent households and two-parent adoptive parent households.

Apparently believing that it makes more sense to compare apples with apples, the researchers point out that

many of the assumptions used in contemporary legal and scholarly discussions — some of which translate into legal rulings and public policy — about the importance of biological parents to the well-being of children rely on these older studies. The authors wrote that “recent court cases regarding same-sex marriage cite this body of research as evidence of the superiority of biological parenthood and, in turn, as a compelling rationale for the current legal definitions of marriage.” The article specifically cites two court cases in Washington and New York states that rely on this rationale: Andersen v. King County, which upheld a state law banning same-sex marriage; and Seymour v. Holcomb, where a same-sex marriage ban also was upheld.

We have pointed out the fallacy of these arguments and the misuse of this research before. Ironically, and contrary to what the researchers say, the argument of the court in the New York case may be somewhat bolstered by these findings. That argument actually frames biological parents as inferior, and therefore more in need of social support in the form of marriage – for precisely the reasons suggested by this study. Biological parents often have children by accident, whereas adoptive parents have to work at it.

“One of the reasons adoptive parents invest more is that they really want children, and they go to extraordinary means to have them,” Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell, one of the study’s three co-authors, said in a telephone interview Monday.

“Adoptive parents face a culture where, to many other people, adoption is not real parenthood,” Powell said. “What they’re trying to do is compensate. They recognize the barriers they face, and it sets the stage for them to be better parents…ironically, the same social context that creates struggles for these alternative families may also set the stage for them to excel in some measures of parenting,” the study concluded.

This appears to be one of those times that “common sense” and empirical evidence produce the same conclusion.

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