As many as six million adults and children in the United States have an LGBT parent, and an estimated three million LGBT Americans have had a child at some point in their lives, according to an analysis released February 27 by the Williams Institute of UCLA.
Including single and married or partnered LGBT people, the study found that nearly half of LGBT women and a fifth of LGBT men under age 50 are currently raising a child.
This new report also reinforces an emerging picture of LGBT families as racially and ethnically diverse, and living in places and in economic conditions that contradict popular impressions.
The study, “LGBT Parenting in the United States,” by Gary Gates, Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute, also comes at a time when issues of parenting have been implicated in the historic marriage equality cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gates used multiple data sources, including Census 2010, the Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), the 2008/2010 General Social Survey (the most frequently analyzed data source in the social sciences after the Census), and the Gallup Daily Tracking Survey.
The study found that more than 125,000 same-sex couple households in the U.S. are raising nearly 220,000 children. These include more than 111,000 same-sex couple households raising an estimated 170,000 biological, step, or adopted children, as well as households that include minors who are grandchildren, siblings of an adult, foster children, or others.
And despite the prevailing image of same-sex parents on television as white and upper middle-class (e.g., on ABC’s Modern Family and NBC’s The New Normal), same-sex parents are more likely to be people of color (39 percent), compared to different-sex parents (36 percent).
LGBT parents are also more likely to be struggling economically than non-LGBT ones. Single LGBT adults raising children are three times as likely to report household incomes near the poverty threshold; married or partnered LGBT individuals raising children are twice as likely as likely to be near the poverty threshold.
Gates explains the economic difference by noting that LGBT parents are more likely to have characteristics associated with a greater chance of being in poverty, such as being female, younger, and a racial/ethnic minority.
LGBT couples raising children live in every state—but the states with the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children are not the more liberal coastal states like California, New York, and Massachusetts. Mississippi and Wyoming lead the way, with over one quarter of the LGBT couples there raising children, followed by Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Kansas, North Dakota, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Oklahoma, each with over 20 percent.
The Williams study also found that same-sex couples raising children are four times as likely as different-sex couples to be raising an adopted child, and six times as likely to be raising a foster child. An estimated 16,000 same-sex couples are raising more than 22,000 adopted children, and 2,600 same-sex couples are raising 3,400 foster children.
LGBT parents can petition for joint adoption statewide in only 18 states plus the District of Columbia, and are restricted from doing so in five states.
Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, said in an e-mail interview that, “We know from research and experience that [LGBT] families function well and that the outcomes for their children are good—and now we know just how significant the numbers have become. All that says to me that it’s time—past time—to bring policy and practice into alignment with reality on the ground.”
The Williams report also found a connection between relationship status and children. Same-sex couples who consider themselves to be spouses are more than twice as likely to be raising biological, step, or adopted children compared to those who say that they are unmarried partners (31 percent versus 14 percent).
This analysis comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is set to take up a pair of cases about marriage equality. Opponents of marriage equality have filed briefs claiming that it is different-sex couples’ unique ability to procreate that warrants giving them sole access to marriage rights, in order to encourage and regulate stable environments for raising children. They also say that children do best when raised by both a mother and a father.
Gates said in an e-mail interview that he included information from his study in amicus briefs he submitted to the court in both cases.
In the interview, he addressed the procreation issue by pointing out that that roughly two out of three kids being raised by same-sex couples have a biological connection to at least one of the parents.
Even more importantly, he said, “Many same-sex couples with children look, at least demographically, very similar to different-sex couples raising kids, yet are treated differently under the law.”