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A controversial gay parenting study revisited

November 15th, 2012

Walter R. Schumm

… and found to have much in common with less controversial gay parenting studies.

In the July issue of the scholarly journal Social Science Research, Professor Mark Regnerus (pictured) published an article detailing initial results from his New Family Structures Study. His results suggested that adult children who had been raised, for at least a brief time, in families with a gay, lesbian, or bisexual parent were more likely to report dysfunctional adult outcomes than those who had been raised in other family structures, especially families with continuously married heterosexual parents.

In the same issue of the journal, three other scholars rendered comments on the NFSS results and Regnerus addressed their comments as well. His study raised a huge outcry of protest, which led, among other things, to the University of Texas conducting a preliminary investigation into the ethics of his study (he was cleared of any malfeasance). Subsequently, in the November issue of SSR, several scholars, including the editor of SSR and an auditor of the review process, rendered their verdicts on the study. Professor Regnerus also provided a revised analysis of the data, attempting to address some of the criticisms of his study.

How different was Regnerus’s method to that of other studies?

I also weighed in on the discussion with a commentary pointing out, as SSR editor Dr. James D. Wright noted, “that many of the most controversial methodological and measurement decisions made in the Regnerus paper have well-established precedents in the larger social science literature”.

My approach was different than those of the other commentators, who were generally “for” or “against”. My main question was, “How different was what Regnerus did methodologically compared to what other scholars have done in the past ten years when investigating similar issues?” I considered sample selection, sample size, definition of family forms, measurement of sexual orientation, statistical analysis, funding, and consistency of results with other research, citing over 110 examples of other previous research.

Space here does not permit me to detail all of my findings but I will discuss a few of my comments. While some have tried to vindicate the Regnerus study by citing my comments, my intent was not to laud the study but to place it in context relative to other social science research. The conclusion to be drawn may be “similar methodological limitations” as much as anything.

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