Self-selected sample sinks same-sex study

iStock_000002098320MediumAn Australian study about the well-being of children in families headed by same-sex couples has been seized upon as an indication that the children benefit from an ungendered structure that creates “a more harmonious family unit … therefore feeding on to better health and well-being.”

But wait a minute, and look deeper.

In addition to the problem of comparing children to the general population rather than children raised by married couples, you have the problem of a sample recruited through gay and lesbian media and events, and the problem that results are reported only by the parents.

Here are some other things we noticed looking at the actual study. The mean age of participants is 5.12 and the median age is 4. That doesn’t give us many years to pick up differences. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t report the corresponding demographics for the comparison group.

The number of children in the sample born while the current relationship is ongoing also seems much higher than is generally the case where far higher percentages of children of same-sex couples were conceived in a previous relationship.

The measures used seem to focus on physical health which (especially at the young age of the participants) would not seem to be very responsive to parenting, unless asthma is caused by parents. (The most touted value, “family cohesion,” is not defined.)

In an article for the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse website pointing out the problem with the study’s methodology, social scientist Mark Regnerus writes:

[T]his non-random sample reflects those who actively pursued participating in the study, personal and political motivations included. In such a charged environment, the public—including judges and media—would do well to demand better-quality research designs, not just results they approve of.

Snowball sampling doesn’t cut it. When I want to know who’s most apt to win the next election, I don’t ask my friends whom they support. Nor do I field a survey asking interested people to participate. No, I want a random sample of the sort often conducted by Gallup, NORC, or Knowledge Networks.

Another reason for healthy skepticism is that the [study] participants—parents reporting about their children’s lives — are all well aware of the political import of the study topic, and an unknown number of them certainly signed up for that very reason. As a result, it seems unwise to trust their self-reports, given the high risk of “social desirability bias,” or the tendency to portray oneself (or here, one’s children) as better than they actually are.

So our question is this: Will the left and its academics take the path of integrity (dismissing this study because of its methodology) or the path of hypocrisy (embracing this study, despite its methodology, simply because its conclusions fit their ideological paradigm)?

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