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Greater Diversity for Gay and Lesbian Families

Debunking the white, wealthy, urban stereotype
  • April 23 2012

LGBT families are not who you may think they are. While popular images of same-sex couples with children often seem to be white, wealthy and urban, racial and ethnic minorities in the LGBT community are significantly more likely to be rearing children.

An analysis by Dr. Gary Gates, the Williams Distinguished Scholar at UCLA School of Law, found that the overall percentage of same-sex couples raising children has declined, but those adopting has doubled. Moreover, it found that their families reflect greater racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity than often represented in the media and academic research. The findings, based on analysis of Census data and several population-based surveys, were published by the National Council for Family Relations.

Demographic data show significant diversity among same-sex couples with children. These families live throughout the country: of same-sex couples by region, 26 percent in the South, 24 percent in New England, and 21 percent in the Pacific states are raising children.

Childrearing is substantially higher among racial/ethnic minorities, he notes. African-Americans, in particular, are 2.4 times more likely than their White counterparts to be raising children. Further, among individuals in same-sex couples who did not finish high school, 43 percent are raising children, and 20 percent of children raised by same-sex couples live in poverty.

“These findings debunk popular misconceptions about parenting among same-sex couples, particularly that those raising children are predominantly white, urban and wealthy,” says Gates.

Interestingly, the proportion of same-sex couples raising children has begun to decline.  The report notes that in the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 17 percent of same-sex couples were raising children.  That proportion peaked at 19 percent in 2006 and has declined to 16 percent in 2009.  Despite the decline, the number of same-sex couples raising children is still much higher today than ten years ago since many more couples are reporting themselves in Census Bureau data.  In 2000, the Census reported about 63,000 couples raising children.  Today, the figure is now more than 110,000.

The decrease in the proportion of couples raising children may be due to decreases in parenting by LGB individuals who had children at a relatively young age while in a relationship with a different-sex partner. Different-sex relationships at a relatively young age are a common path to parenthood for LGB men and women. Gates’ analysis shows that LGB individuals are younger than non-LGB individuals when they have their first child (22.5 years compared to 24.1 years respectively), and individuals in same-sex couples who were previously married are much more likely to have biological or stepchildren than those who were never married (23.5 percent compared to 9.5 percent respectively).

Despite proportional declines in parenting, the analysis shows that adoptive parenting is clearly increasing.  Among couples with children, the proportion of same-sex couples that have adopted children has nearly doubled from 10 percent to 19 percent between 2000 and 2009. Same-sex couples with adopted children are twice as likely to be White, to have obtained a higher level of education, and to have never been previously married.


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