Teens of Lesbians Just as Happy as Teens of Straight Parents, Study Finds

Nanette Gartrell

Nanette Gartrell

New results from the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), the longest-running and largest study of American lesbian families, show that the quality of life—a measure of positive psychological adjustment—of 17-year-olds raised by lesbian moms did not differ from those who grew up with heterosexual parents.

The study took 78 17-year-olds from the NLLFS—all of whom have lesbian mothers—and matched them based on gender, age, parental education, and ethnic background with 78 17-year-olds who have opposite-sex parents. All were scored based on their responses to statements like, “I feel I’m getting along with my parents/guardians,” “I look forward to the future,” and ”I feel good about myself.” The result? Both groups “responded generally in the same way.”

The study also found that teens with lesbian mothers had no difference in quality of life based on known vs. unknown donors or on whether their mothers were still together or had separated. (The study, which began in 1986, limited itself to families conceiving through donor insemination.)

Additionally, it found that although nearly half of the NLLFS adolescents said they had been teased, excluded from activities, or stereotyped as being different, particularly by classmates, as a result of having a lesbian mother, this was not associated with a lesser quality of life. The researchers say, “The relationship between stigmatization and quality of life may have been mediated by the adolescents’ close, positive relationships with their lesbian mothers.”

Previous studies from the NLLFS have found that the teens “demonstrate significantly higher social competence” and “significantly lower total problem behavior [than the standard population],” as Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the lead investigator, explained to me in an interview a few years ago. In a paper published in 2010, Gartrell and co-investigator Dr. Henny Bos found the teens “were rated higher than their peers in social, academic, and overall competence, and lower in aggressive behavior, rule-breaking, and social problems, on standardized assessments of psychological adjustment.”

Additionally, a previous study found that among the 78 children in the NLLFS, none report having ever been physically or sexually abused by a parent or other caregiver. This contrasts with 26 percent of American adolescents who report parent or caregiver physical abuse and 8.3 percent who report sexual abuse.

The new study appears in the peer-reviewed Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Full press release below.

The quality of life of 17-year-olds reared in lesbian-parent families did not differ from that of a matched group of adolescents who grew up in heterosexual-parent families, according to a new study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.   “Consistently, over the past three decades, researchers have found that the daughters and sons of same-sex parents are psychologically well-adjusted. And now our new data demonstrate that 17-year-olds raised from birth by lesbian mothers are as happy as their peers,” said lead author Loes van Gelderen, MSc, University of Amsterdam.

The study also found, among teens with lesbian mothers, no difference in quality of life based on donor status (whether they had been conceived by known or unknown donors), experienced stigmatization (whether or not they had experienced discrimination), or maternal relationship continuity (whether their mothers were still together or had separated). “The favorable outcomes for these adolescents are a reflection of good parenting by mothers who prepared their daughters and sons for the prospect of adversity,” said Principal Investigator Nanette Gartrell, MD, of the Williams Institute.

In the study, Quality of Life of Adolescents Raised From Birth by Lesbian Mothers, 78 17-year-olds with lesbian mothers were matched on gender, age, parental education, and ethnic background with adolescents in heterosexual-parent families that were drawn from a representative statewide sample.  The adolescents in both groups gave a numerical score (0 = minimum; 10= maximum) to each of a series of statements such as, “I feel I’m getting along with my parents/guardians,” “I look forward to the future,” and ”I feel good about myself.” The adolescents with lesbian mothers responded generally in the same way as the teenagers with heterosexual parents.

The data in the new report comes from adolescents whose families are participants in the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), the longest-running and largest prospective investigation of lesbian mothers and their children in the United States. Initiated by Nanette Gartrell, MD, in 1986, the NLLFS examines the social, psychological, and emotional development of the children as well as the dynamics of planned lesbian families.

This study was conducted by Loes van Gelderen, MSc. (University of Amsterdam), Henny Bos, PhD (University of Amsterdam; Williams Visiting International Scholar 2012), Nanette Gartrell, MD (University of Amsterdam; 2011-12 Williams Institute Visiting Distinguished Scholar ), Jo Hermanns, PhD (University of Amsterdam), and Ellen C. Perrin, MD (Floating Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA).

For more information about this study, please see Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. 33 (1): 1-7.

For more information about the NLLFS, visit www.nllfs.org.