We hear a lot of “a survey has found that…” or “studies prove that…” Public opinion has a big effect on issues that we face. But when presented with such surveys, studies, or polls, how do we know if all the information is accurate? Can we trust everything it says? There have been numerous instances where no one is calling out the errors or omissions in the information presented. Here is a good example that recently happened in Australia:
A study conducted by the University of Melbourne found that same-sex couples are better parents than heterosexual couples. The Australian university collected data from 500 children of same-sex attracted couples or married parents to “established population samples” (information collected from heterosexual homes). The study claims that children in same-sex homes, whether the parents are married or not, scored 6% better than children in heterosexual homes when it comes to the physical health and the social well-being of the children.
However, there are four noticeable errors in the data gathering for this study: (1) there were problems with the methodology; (2) there is no explanation of the comparison group of children; (3) there are huge contrasts in their heterosexual and same-sex parenting samples; and (4) the study contradicts itself. All these issues combined makes for a study that is inaccurate.
Problems with methodology
One of the biggest problems with this study is the methodology has problems. Even the authors of the study admitted there were significant problems with the way the data was collected.
For starters, a group of 500 people is a very small sample and the 500 participants that were selected was not a good representation of children from same-sex marriages. Of the 500 children selected for the study, 406 kids came from a household with an annual income from 60K – 250K. If this were a representative sample, that would mean that 81% of people make at least 60K a year.
Also, the sample that was studied was a “convenience sample”. This means the study was targeted towards gay communities, gay publications, etc., where people in those communities are more likely to attract people who are interested in the topic.
This then led to another problem: parents knew what they were signing their families up for. If you know that your family is not a happy one and you have both health and emotional issues in your home, you are not going to fill out a study on the well-being of your family.
Probably the biggest problem was that the information was collected from self-reports completed by the parents for the children. Also, knowing the importance of the political and rhetorical implications of this study, same-sex parents have a strong reason to provide a positive response to the study, thus skewing the results of the study.
These problems combined make for a study that is not representative of the general same-sex homes. The children were not part of the study at all. Everything is based on the parents’ perspective of their family. Unless the children are completely open with their parents on everything going on in their life, the study is not an accurate description of the child’s health and well-being.
There is no explanation of the comparison group of children
Another flaw in the study is that the authors failed to explain the difference between the sample group and the control group. For instance, they never clarified whether the children from heterosexual homes were from low or high income, single parent or married parent homes, etc.
The authors use income and education to form their opinion, but all they provide in the study about heterosexual homes is the information comes from an “established population [sample]”. This is not an accurate description of what the study is using to compare children from same-sex homes to those in heterosexual homes. How would we know if children who come from same-sex homes are better than children from heterosexual homes if we don’t know what type of families they come from?
There are huge contrasts in their heterosexual and same-sex parenting samples
One more problem with the study is there are huge gaps in the parenting “samples”. There is no information given regarding the demographics of the heterosexual parents, but the study does explain some of the demographics of the same-sex parents.
As was stated before, the sample of children was not a representative group, thus, the parents are not a representative sample, either. One of the reasons being that most of the parents that took the study were from higher income households, had higher education levels, and tended to be older than most heterosexual parents.
Of the 500 children that were studied, 406 children came from households with an income of 60K – 250K, whereas the average heterosexual household has an annual average income of 64K. Also, 384 (76%) of the 500 children had parents with at least an undergraduate degree. That is higher than the average American with bachelor degrees (in 2012, 30% of American adults had a bachelor’s degree). Further, the study doesn’t specify the age of the parents when their first child was born. With same-sex parents becoming first time parents at a later age than most heterosexual parents, they will already have achieved an educational goal, higher income, and life stability. When combined, these factors characteristically foster a more positive outcome for the children.
Study contradicts itself
Finally, a huge error made by the study authors is that they contradict themselves. For example, the study claims children from same-sex homes do better than children from heterosexual homes. However, the study also claims that those same children from same-sex homes are more likely to suffer from serious harm due to the social stigma concerning their family.
In a recent article, Simon Crouch, one of the authors of the study, wrote that “stigma is a common problem. Around two-thirds of children with same-sex parents experienced some form of stigma due to their parents’ sexual orientation which, of course, impacts on their mental and emotional well-being“.
The whole study explains how children in same-sex homes are 6% more likely to have better health and well-being. However, this cannot be true if the children could also be experiencing stigma impacting their mental and emotional well-being?
The four flaws of this study have not been adequately addressed by the authors. Likewise, the media is not questioning the contradictions. This study had enormous omissions, yet no one called the authors on it. Sadly, this happens a lot with studies and surveys, especially with issues that will have huge political implications. With all the information we have coming at us today, it is important that we stay informed and make sure that the data is fair and accurate.