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« The Equal Rights Argument | Main | Most Parents Aren't Ready to Train Their Own Kids, So Let Us Help You! »

October 11, 2013


Your last paragraph is so true.

I would add that even if we were able one day to empirically demonstrate that same-sex households fail to provide the right conditions for the flourishing of our children (and in turn human societies) and suggested changing our laws accordingly, still people wouldn't want to accept this and change. In the middle of a crumbling society, "tolerance" should prevail!

Our culture is (and has been for decades) denying these differences in order to promote sameness­—in genders, roles, couples, etc. But reality has a way of asserting itself. We can recognize it, live within it, and promote human flourishing; or we can continue trying to force everyone into a new, more politically correct mold of a “better” human nature and suffer the consequences.

100% agree, and this can be seen in other things such as so-called "trans-gender", etc. You can dress a certain way all you want, you can have surgeries, take supplements, and even make your body look like a certain gender all you want, but the end of the day you are no more "trans-gendered" than I can make myself a broccoli. Guaranteed you take a DNA sample, and the exact same chromosomes you had when you were born are the ones that are going to show up regardless of what kinds of things you've done to yourself to deny reality. And, surprise, surprise, guess how science and medicine define gender: by the presence of an X or Y chromosome, not by what you "feel" like, dress like, make yourself look like.

The study has a magnificently obvious flaw in that it is based on the number of people aged 17-22 who have graduated high school. See the problem? Take away age as a confounding discfactor and the discrepancies disappear.
Why do gay parents have younger kids? Because its a relatively new type of family.

Phillip, it's important to remember that they're not comparing the total number of all the children of same-sex parents who graduated to the total number of all the children of opposite sex parents who graduated and then just saying that the second group has more graduated children. Rather, they used the census data to isolate the members of each group and then calculated the percentage that graduated within that group (most likely controlling for other factors like income, etc. in order to isolate the factor they wanted to study). The percentages could then be compared to each other.

The advantage of studying this age group is that there's a concrete measure involved: whether or not the student graduated. The total number of the one group in relation to the other group is irrelevant as long the people doing the study had plenty of children 17-22 to study in each group (which they appear to have done).

In terms of having a large enough sample to study, as Regnerus points out in his article, one of the advantages of this Canadian study is that recognition of same-sex couples has been around for a longer period of time.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.

Regnerus's article contains more info, if you haven't read it yet.

Amy, you misunderstand me. I have no problem with the sampling, which is fine. The problem lies with the specific age group which they selected, 17-22. Within this age group, even among the highest-performing children, there will be 17 and 18 year olds who haven't graduated high school yet. So if Group A is younger, on average, than Group B, then, naturally, the percentage of those who have graduated will be smaller.

It turns out this is true with the same-sex vs. opposite sex parents. Average age for kids of opposite-sex couples was 19.26, two male parents, 18.96, two female parents, 18.79. (I not only read the Regnerus article, but the original paper.) Suspiciously, this "pecking order" was paralleled in the graduation rates (opposite-sex 72%, two males 60%, two females 52%). So all this study really demonstrates is that younger kids are less likely to have graduated, which isn't exactly earth-shattering.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Did some random guy really just uncover a flaw that all these researchers missed? Well, the truth is that "all those researchers" don't strictly exist. There is Douglas Allen, an economist who has a many-year-long history of making left-field arguments against same-sex marriage. He publishes an article in a highly specialized journal with a very low impact factor. And then there is Mark Regnerus, writing on the blog of a stuffy conservative Catholic think tank. And that's pretty much it, I'm afraid.

Ah, I see. That makes more sense. I apologize for the misunderstanding. You're referring to this:

Opposite sex married: .72
Opposite sex common law: .59
Gay parents: .60
Lesbian parents: .52
Single father: .62
Single mother: .61

Opposite sex married: 19.26
Opposite sex common law: 18.91
Gay parents: 18.96
Lesbian parents: 18.79
Single father: 19.20
Single mother: 19.15

Thanks for pointing that out. Not being a sociologist, it's difficult for me to evaluate this. If children still in school weren't excluded, and if the differences exactly match the age differences, without age being allowed for, that would make me skeptical of these findings. What couldn't be explained by this, though, is the differences found between boys and girls (which would be consistent with other studies done on the lack of a father or mother), so there may be something I'm missing simply because I don't know how to read all the technical details in the paper.

Regardless, I'm looking into this, and I'll see what I can find out.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.

Reading this, one might think to oneself...

Wow, since 2005. This is 2013. That's 8 years.

So, today, there could be somewhere in Canada a 17-year-old boy who is counted in the study and whose moms have been married since he was 9.

Perhaps Regnerus even imagines something like this.

But you mustn't because Regnerus is leaving something out.

Since the Allen study is based on Canada's 2006 census the children were born between 1984 and 1989.

In 1997, when 'all taxation and government benefits' came in, they were already 8 to 13 years old.

In 2005, when same-sex marriage arrived, they were already 16 to 21 years old.

So these children did not grow up the way you might imagine from reading Amy's quotation from Regnerus (or even his whole blog post).


RonH, good point.

Amy, you may not be a sociologist, but neither is the author of the study. He's an economist. So other than his general background in critical thinking and statistical analysis (which I share, having a physics background myself), he has the same level of expertise as you or I.

Phillip A,

RonH, good point.


Yours is good too. To expand on it...

Within this age group, even among the highest-performing children, there will be 17 and 18-year-olds who haven't graduated high school yet.

And they are not expected to have graduated!

What does 'graduation rate' mean?

Allen titles his paper with the term but doesn't define it or use it in a standard way.

High school 'graduation rate' usually means graduating 'on time' or 'when expected' or 'with your class'. (College graduation rates are usually calculated with a 50% grace period - i.e. 2 years on a 4-year degree.)

Allen gets an overall 'graduation rate' of less than 72%.

A better value is around 77% - based on being 18 or 19.

But the true value is probably closer to 89% - based on being 20 to 24.

Canadian high school students usually graduate at 17 or 18 years old.

In 2006, Census Day was May 16.

Actual counting takes place in February, March, April, and May - till the 16th.

I checked the Toronto and Windsor Ontario school calendars. Graduation is in June.

So, in February, March, April or May, some graduating seniors will answer No, I have not graduated - since they haven't.

And some will say Yes, I've graduated - though they haven't.

Since graduation is in June, a graduating class should be about equally divided between the those 17 and those 18.

None of the 17-year-old group is expected to have graduated in May of their senior year nor are about half the 18-year-olds.

Of Allen's 6-year sample, 1-1/2 years worth (25%) are not expected to have graduated.

Why did he include them?

Perhaps we would know why if Allen had defined his null and alternative hypotheses prior to doing his study.

Alas, he does not even state null and alternative hypotheses.

This is not merely a technicality; defining the null and alternative hypotheses before analyzing data is necessary when you are testing an alternative hypothesis.

I don't know what to call what Allen did, but one thing I wouldn't call it was 'comparing graduation rates'. Asking 17- and 18-year-olds in May if they have graduated is just wrong for that purpose.

Canada has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the world. Since federal equality became law there in 2005, through to the present day, high school graduation rates have gone up. Meaning -- (leaving aside all of the other defects in Allen's paper) -- he has left untested the possibility that the longer duration of equality correlates to higher high school graduation rates. Empirically we know that since equality was made law in Massachusetts, teen suicide rates for gays and straights have gone down.

The Douglas Allen study of Canadian children of gay/lesbian parents is worthless

by Dr. Philip Cohen

This is just a quick post to get down some of the obvious, fatal flaws in Douglas Allen’s new paper in the Review of Economics of the Household, “High school graduation rates among children of same-sex households.” (The article is paywalled, but since you’re a personal friend I will loan you my electronic copy.)

The short story is Allen reports children of gay and lesbian couples are less likel to graduate high school. But you can’t use this kind of data to answer this kind of question. So the results in the paper are meaningless. Here are the notes behind that conclusion.

Boost that sample

Like Regnerus, Allen talks about the benefits of a big, random, national sample. In praising the study, Mark Regnerus calls the dataset “massive.” (Regnerus background here.) However, like Regnerus before him, Allen ends up with a tiny sample of people from gay- or lesbian-parent households, and makes bad decisions to increase its size.

Allen says the law doesn’t permit him to release the sample size, but it’s a 20% file which should mean each respondent on average represents five people in the Canadian population. With a weighted population of gay-father kids of 423, and lesbian-mother kids of 969, that means Allen probably has about 85 gay-father kids and 194 lesbian-mother kids. I have no idea why these numbers are so low (Canada has 35 million people — almost the size or California — and homogamous marriage is legal there).

But to make his sample even that big, Allen says he included all 17-22 year-olds who live with their parents. With weights, that represents 1.97 million people, or (by my calculation) 77% of the 2006 Canadian population ages 17-22. (That seems very high to me, since in 2006 only 57% of American 17-22 year-olds lived with their parents, but I don’t know what’s going on in Canada.)

Graduation rate

From the title through the end of the paper, Allen writes as if he were measuring the “graduation rate” of Canadian young adults. But that’s not the case. In Canada in 2006, 89% of people ages 25-34 had graduated high school (if I read their Census table right). In Allen’s sample, only 69% have graduated high school. Allen counts those in his sample who have graduated to calculate a graduation rate, but that’s not what it is, it’s the percentage of 17-22 year-olds (many of whom are still in high school) who have already graduated high school.

Allen throws up a smokescreen by analyzing the odds that people in his sample are attending school — which 74% of them are — as if this is the selection problem. (This analysis adds nothing, because some of his sample are attending high school and some are attending college.)

Who’s at home

All this is setup for the elephant in the room: selection into the sample. Who is living at home? Allen writes, “Children over the age of 22 were dropped because of a likely selection bias in children who live at home well into adulthood.” Age 22? That’s where you start to have selection bias in who lives at home? And then he’s got one of those throw-away footnotes that work if you trust the researcher:

There’s no reason to believe this selection bias would be correlated with family type, however. All regressions were run with various restrictions on the child’s age within the sample, including keeping everyone, and none of the gay or lesbian family results in the paper change, in terms of magnitudes or levels of significance, in an important way.

What were the “various restrictions on the child’s age”? Unless he got the same result with just the 17-year-olds, I think we can stop reading.

But what about “no reason to believe” the selection is correlated with family type? What drives the selection? There is no analysis comparing the people in his sample to the population of 17-22 year-olds who don’t live with their parents.

Think about the population like this: Here are some possible scenarios for 17-22 year-olds. The “live at home” column represent the people in Allen’s sample; the “doesn’t live at home” column represents threats to the validity of his sample. If the distribution across these columns is correlated with family structure, the study is wrong. What are the odds?

Live at home Doesn’t live at home
High school dropout Happy and supportive family; or stuck at home with no exit plan Successfully employed and independent; or unsuccessful and miserably kicked out of the house; married or not.
High school graduate In college and living with happy and supportive family; in college and stuck at home because can’t afford rent; not in college and living with happy and supportive family; or not in college and stuck at home because too poor to move out. Successfully employed and independent; independently poor and miserable (or married); successfully in college and living on parents’ money; in college but not supported by parents.
I got an email from Kristi Williams, who suggested a hypothetical pattern in which gay and lesbian parents are more successful at launching their children from home after completing high school. In Allen’s analysis, that would be “troubling” evidence of a bad family outcome. That’s just one possible scenario, of course. But this problem alone completely invalidates the study, I believe. I can think of one other study that uses educational attainment among adults living with their parents to study high school dropout rates, but at least that paper included tests for differences between those living at home and not, and cautioned against generalizing to the non-living-at-home population. It’s just a bad idea unless you can solve that selection problem, and you probably can’t.

Who raised them?

That problem is so bad that you don’t need to worry about the problem of who raised these young adults, which is supposed to be the issue in the first place.

They live with their parents. But for how long have they done that, and for how long have their parents been in gay or lesbian relationships? We can’t know. Allen controls for whether the child has moved in the last year or five years, but we don’t know if the parents moved with them. Controlling for whether they have moved doesn’t address this. A full 60% of the lesbian-mother kids and 39% of the gay-father kids have moved in the last five years, compared with just 24% of the different-sex-married-parent kids. Their life stories are in these mobility histories, and the paper can’t say anything about that.

Interpreting the results

The paper says the children of gay and lesbian parents are “65% as likely to graduate,” a number Regnerus repeats, and Allen repeated in an interview. That’s just preying on the public, who don’t understand that in odds ratios (which I’ve discussed this here), that number would be even more dramatic if the graduation rates of the two groups were 99 and 96 percent. There is no good way to describe odds ratios, really, but they are useful in statistics. Anyway, the paper does provide the marginal effects, which show that the children living with gay parents have graduated from high school at an adjusted predicted percentage 6 points lower than those living with married different-sex parents, that number for kids of lesbian parents — which is not statistically significant with controls added — is 9 percentage points. But it’s not a meaningful result anyway.

Funny-not-funny aside

The paper also splits the kids up by gender, and finds the worst “effects” are for girls living with gay dads. Since the analysis is all bogus, it doesn’t matter, but, in the interview he gave, Allen seems to forget that and think it’s the lesbians+daughter combination that’s worst, because he offers this “speculation” in answer to the question, “It’s particularly hard on girls, isn’t it?”:

Indeed, mothers may provide some parenting services that a father cannot provide, and fathers may provide parenting services that mothers cannot. These services may be necessary for girls but not necessary for boys. For example, I’ve been told by medical people that when a biological father is present in the home, daughters begin menstruation at an older age. Later menstruation is likely correlated with delayed sexual activity, etc., and this may lead to a better likelihood of high school completion.

Of course, girls in gay-father homes probably have a biological father in the home, which goes against his argument. Which is… really?

Believe it or not, there is some evidence that girls living without their fathers hit puberty earlier, which may be a kind of stress response. By earlier, I mean one month earlier on average, or maybe two months (as recorded by a retrospective question asked to adults). And it is true that earlier puberty increases the odds that girls will not finish high school, but that result comes from bigger differences than a month or two, as far as I can tell. If this were a true driver of family-structure effects on girls, we would get at it from studies of single mothers, not lesbian couples anyway.

But anyway, that’s neither here nor there in this study, which offers nothing of value.


I am willing to believe anything, if it’s true, even if I wish it weren’t true. I try to watch out for how my biases might distort my research (which I think is good) or the research that I criticize that I think is bad. Don’t hate on the methods because you hate the conclusion, hate on the conclusion because the methods are wrong.

Uggh! ya gotta pay $40 bucks just to read it!

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