Children of lesbian and gay parents are no more likely to become nonconformist in their gender identity than children of heterosexual parents, says a new study. In fact, a much better indicator of whether or not children will adopt traditional or non-traditional gender roles is the type of toys they play with as toddlers.
Studies on parenting have consistently revealed that when it comes to the upbringing and mental health of children, it makes no difference whether parents are gay, lesbian or straight.
A 2016 study, for example, looked at data from the United States National Survey of Children’s Health, finding that rates of emotional difficulties, learning difficulties and parenting stress were similar in families with same-sex and heterosexual parents.
Another recent study from the University of Melbourne in Australia found that children of same-sex parents actually fared better when it came to mental health factors such as self-esteem and time spent with parents.
Now, research published in the journal Sex Roles concludes the same for the development of a child’s gender identities. The study involved 106 children, 56 of whom came from same-sex parent families (either gay father families or lesbian mother families) and 50 from heterosexual parent families.
The children were first interviewed at a preschool age (between one and six years old) where their toy-playing behaviour was observed. Children were presented with toys to play with, some of which are thought to be girl-typical (such as a tea party set), some boy-typical (building blocks) and some designated gender-neutral (jack-in-the-box). Parents were also given a questionnaire on their child’s behaviour, asking questions such as “How often does your child play sports and ball games?” or “Does your child like pretty things?” — all of which were meant to give researchers an indication of gender roles potentially being taken up by the child.
Five years after the initial interview, the children were assessed again, this time with the kids themselves providing questionnaire responses about, for example, their favourite activities, their occupational aspirations when they grow up and how they view their own personality.
The results showed that children of same-sex parents were just as likely to gravitate towards traditional gender roles for their sex (females towards girl-type attitudes and behaviours, males towards boy-type ones) as are children of different-sex parents. Further, the researchers observed a strong correlation between early, pre-school age behaviour and the child’s later identification with particular gender roles at a more mature age.
“We found that although children did not differ as a function of their parents’ sexual orientation, early gender-typing was predictive of later gender-typed behaviour in middle childhood,” say the study’s authors.
“Our results support that gender conformity, and in contrast, gender nonconformity, are observable at a young age and that these initial behaviours are likely to show consistency across early to middle childhood,” say the authors.