Social Science on Married Parents/Same-Sex Parents

There’s a really fine blog post by Philip Cohen up on the Huffington Post today discussing the use of social science data in the same-sex marriage debate.   This ties back very nicely to my own post of yesterday. Two points I particularly want to highlight–though really you should just go read the whole post.

First, there is no good data comparing children raised by married same sex couples vs. children raised by married different sex couples.    Given that same sex couples have not been allowed to marry until the very recent past and are still only permitted to marry in two states (with two more to be added very soon), how could there be?   And then add to that the fact that the Census Bureau, which does a lot of counting, won’t count same sex couples as married even if they are legally married in one of the states that allows them to do so.

What that means is to the extent there is social science data on same sex couples raising children, it is necessarily almost entirely about unmarried same sex couples.  You could compare outcomes for these same-sex couples raising children with those for unmarried different sex couples raising children or with those for married different sex couples raising children.  But either way, comparing outcomes across these categories is problematic.   The category of unmarried same sex couples isn’t really comparable to the category of unmarried different sex couples, because unmarried different sex couples are are mostly couples who choose not to marry while unmarried same sex couples include a significant number of couples who would choose to marry.  And the category of unmarried same sex couples isn’t comparable to the category of married different sex couples because the latter are married while the former are not.

Cohen’s second point is also critical.   Even if there were some differences in outcomes, social science data doesn’t tell us what to do about them.   I think Cohen’s point here must be kept in mind in many circumstances.   If, for example, children of single mothers seem to “do less well” (whatever that might mean-and I do not mean to suggest that this is true–I’m only using this for the sake of an illustration, as Cohen did) than children of coupled mothers, one solution might be to prevent single mothers from having kids.  A second solution might be to turn single mothers into coupled mothers.   And a third solution might be to figure out what the point of disadvantage is (perhaps less resources?) and address that directly  Simply knowing the differences doesn’t tell you what to do.

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