New Family Structures Study

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The New Family Structures Study (abbreviated NFSS) is an epidemiological study of LGB parenting conducted by sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin. The study surveyed over 15,000 Americans of ages 18 to 39.[1] The first research article based on data from the study was published in July 2012 in Social Science Research,[2] and concluded that people who had had a parent who had been in a same-gender relationship were at a greater risk of several adverse outcomes, including "being on public assistance, being unemployed, and having poorer educational attainment."[3]

Regnerus claimed his study was methodologically superior to previous research on the topic because it used a larger and more random sample.[1] Nevertheless, the study was met with considerable criticism from many academics[1][4] and scholarly organizations.[5][6]


The NFSS survey of over 15,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 39[1] was conducted by Knowledge Networks on behalf of the University of Texas at Austin.[7] Its stated purpose was to determine differences in outcomes among young adults raised by same-sex parents compared to young adults raised by "their married biological parents, those raised with a step-parent, and those raised in homes with two adoptive parents."[8] The survey collected data from young adults who had grown up in one of five unconventional families, namely, those where their parents are of the same sex,[dubious ] biologically unrelated parents adopted the respondent, parents were unmarried but co-habiting, biological mother had a romantic relationship with another man, and biological mother did not have a romantic relationship with another man. The survey also collected data from young adults from conventional families as a control group.[7]


The study compared various types of families, and found that subjects who perceived their parents as having engaged in a same-sex relationship are more likely to had been sexually abused by their parents. When compared with those who grew up in biologically (still) intact, mother–father families, the subjects who reported that their mother had had a same-sex relationship and did not make a similar report about their father look different on outcomes regarding including education, depression, employment status, and marijuana use.[2]

Regnerus states although the findings reported may be explicable in part by a variety of forces uniquely problematic for child development in lesbian and gay families—including a lack of social support for parents, stress exposure resulting from persistent stigma, and modest or absent legal security for their parental and romantic relationship statuses—the empirical claim that no notable differences exist must go.[2]

The term LM is used for subjects who stated that their mother had had a same-sex romantic relationship[9] but did not make a similar statement about their father.[10] The term GF is used for subjects that stated that their father had had a same-sex romantic relationship.[11] The term IBF is used for subjects whose biological families were intact from birth through the time of the survey.[12]

Table 2[edit]

(The following results are mean scores on select dichotomous outcome variables.)

The results is read in the percentage of children from each family structure who responded positively to each question. For example for the variable "Thought recently about suicide" 5% of respondents from intact bio-family answered yes, whereas 12% of those in the LM category answered yes, and 24% of those in the GF category answered yes.

Variables IBF LM GF Adopted by strangers Divorced late (>18) Stepfamily Singleparent All other
Currently married 43% 36% 35% 41% 36% 41% 37% 39%
Currently cohabiting 9% 24% 21% 7% 31% 19% 19% 13%
Family received welfare growing up 17% 69% 57% 12% 47% 53% 48% 35%
Currently on public assistance 10% 38% 23% 27% 31% 30% 30% 23%
Currently employed full-time 49% 26% 34% 41% 42% 47% 43% 39%
Currently unemployed 8% 28% 20% 22% 15% 14% 13% 15%
Voted in last presidential election 57% 41% 73% 58% 63% 57% 51% 48%
Thought recently about suicide 5% 12% 24% 7% 8% 10% 5% 9%
Recently or currently in therapy 8% 19% 19% 22% 12% 17% 13% 9%
Identifies as entirely heterosexual 90% 61% 71% 82%% 83% 81% 83% 82%
Is in a same-sex romantic relationship 4% 7% 12% 23% 5% 13% 3% 2%
Had affair while married/cohabiting 13% 40% 25% 20% 12% 32% 19% 16%
Has ever had an STI 8% 20% 25% 16% 12% 16% 14% 8%
Ever touched sexually by parent/adult 2% 23% 6% 3% 10% 12% 10% 8%
Ever forced to have sex against will 8% 31% 25% 23% 24% 16% 16% 11%


The study was funded by the Witherspoon Institute, which spent about $700,000 on it, and by the Bradley Foundation, which invested $90,000 in it.[13] The Witherspoon Institute's president expected results that would be unfavorable to those supporting gay marriage.[13] In the initial report, Regnerus stated that the Witherspoon Institute and the Bradley Foundation played no role in the design of the study, and dismissed accusations that these organizations had improperly influenced him. In 2013, however, in response to requests by the American Independent News Network, emails sent between Regnerus and Witherspoon Institute employee Brad Wilcox were released which cast doubt on these statements. In one email, Wilcox approved several items relating to the study on behalf of the Witherspoon Institute. Critics have also noted that Wilcox was on the editorial board of Social Science Research, the journal in which the study was later published.[14]


Cynthia Osborne, who is on the UT-Austin faculty along with Regnerus, argued the study was unable to show "whether same-sex parenting causes the observed differences."[1] She also said that "Children of lesbian mothers might have lived in many different family structures, and it is impossible to isolate the effects of living with a lesbian mother from experiencing divorce, remarriage or living with a single parent."[1] Similarly, Gary Gates of the Williams Institute argued that the study's comparison of children of lesbian mothers was a less fair comparison than, for instance, comparing "children of heterosexual or same-sex couples who were raised in similar homes".[1]

Regnerus' former mentor Christian Smith[15] has described the public and academic reaction to the New Family Structures Study as a "witch hunt"[16] and said that the "push-back" to Regnerus' article "is coming simply because some people don’t like where the data led."[15] This backlash, Smith argues in his book The Sacred Project of American Sociology, is a result of the content of sociology's "sacred project" (of mitigating oppression, inequality, etc.); Smith holds that the critical reaction, e.g. on methodological issues, displays a set of double standards insofar as work by other scholars could be (but is generally not) subjected to similar criticism.[17]

Regnerus' study was defended by 18 social scientists in a letter written on the website of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.[18]

Allegations of scientific misconduct[edit]

Soon after the paper was published, blogger Scott Rose accused Regnerus of scientific misconduct for two reasons: deviating from ethical standards and possible falsification of his research. An inquiry later conducted by the University of Texas-Austin found that no investigation into these charges was warranted.[19] In 2014, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas-Austin, Randy Diehl asked University of Texas sociologist and associate dean Marc Musick to review the controversy around the NFSS article as part of Regnerus' seventh-year post-tenure evaluation. Musick summarized many of the prior criticisms, then stated that the survey itself was designed to ensure the conflation of family structure and the parents' same-sex orientation, practically guaranteeing negative results. Musick stated that non-disclosure of this design flaw in the original article possibly violated University research ethics standards.[20]

Peer review process[edit]

In July 2012, over 150 scientists wrote a letter to the editor of Social Science Research criticizing the study and raising concerns about the journal's peer review process.[4]

In the November 2012 issue of the journal, an audit was published by Darren Sherkat of Southern Illinois University regarding the peer-review process with respect to the Regnerus study (as well as another study from the same issue). The audit concluded that the peer-review process failed in these instances because of “both ideology and inattention” by the reviewers; he added that of the six reviewers, three of them were on record as opposing same-sex marriage.[21] Sherkat also dismissed the study as "bullshit" in an interview and argued that its definition of gay fathers and lesbian mothers should have “disqualified it immediately” from being considered for publication.[22]

In April 2013, journalist John Becker sued the University of Central Florida, where James D. Wright, editor-in-chief of Social Science Research, worked. The suit alleged that the school has violated state law by failing to provide documents pertaining to the study's publication. Becker and others expressed suspicion on the fact that Regnerus' study had taken only six weeks to be published after it was first submitted, while other papers in the same issue took an entire year.[23]

In August 2013, sociologist Philip N. Cohen wrote on his blog that Wright relied on paid consultants to review the paper and failed to disclose this when the study was first published. He also called for the paper to be retracted and for Wright to step down.[24]

Subsequent studies[edit]

Two subsequent studies published in Social Science Research[25] and Sociological Science [26] claimed that when methodological flaws were removed from data used in Regenerus study, the conclusions were opposite.

The first peer-reviewed and published criticism is the Cheng and Powell, 2015 review.[25] The authors state that they identified a large number of potential measurement errors and other methodological choices which led to erroneous results. They state that even small differences in coding can profoundly shape empirical patterns, and that after repeating the analysis with sound methods, the "differences in being raised by gay/lesbian and heterosexual parents are minimal."[25]

The second such peer reviewed criticism is by Stanford University Sociology professor Michael J. Rosenfeld which also brings out the methodological flaws in Regenerus study. It was published in Sociological Science .[26]

Unlike the above mentioned two studies which have been published in journals indexed in trusted databases like SCOPUS and SCImago Journal Rank, peer reviewed support for Regenerus study has come from Walter Schumm [27] in a journal named Comphrehensive Psychology which has not been indexed in SCImago Journal Rank. Walter Schumm stated that the findings of Cheng and Powell were statistically insignificant, as they did not report effect sizes. Because they reduced the number of same-sex parent families considerably, it is actually possible that the effect sizes were unchanged, but due to the smaller sample statistical significance was lost. He also criticized studies that show the opposite results as Regnerus for having very low sample sizes, being politically motivated themselves, and that these were poorly made refutations quickly thrown out as a knee jerk reaction because science came out with results that contradicted the modern liberal political theories, and did not follow the APA's own recommendations for reporting effect sizes and other methodological requirements.[27].

Citations in court cases[edit]

The New Family Structures Study was cited in amicus briefs for the United States Supreme Court cases of United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.[13] It was also cited by Alan Cooke Kay, a Hawaiian judge in Jackson v. Abercrombie.[13], who used Regnerus' study to dismiss other studies that had come to different conclusions.[28]

In the 2012 California case Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, several major medical organizations, including the American Psychological Association, filed an amicus brief in which they criticized Regnerus' research. The brief argued that "the Regnerus study sheds no light on the parenting of stable, committed same-sex couples".[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Jaslow, Ryan (12 June 2012). "Kids of gay parents fare worse, study finds, but research draws fire from experts". CBS News. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Regnerus, Mark (March 12, 2012). "How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study". Social Science Research. 41 (4): 752–770. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.03.009. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  3. ^ Perrin, E. C.; Siegel, B. S. (20 March 2013). "Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents Are Gay or Lesbian" (PDF). Pediatrics. 131 (4): e1374–e1383. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-0377. PMID 23519940.
  4. ^ a b "Letter to the editors and advisory editors of Social Science Research" (PDF). July 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Amicus Brief in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management" (PDF). p. 23. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  6. ^ Becker, John (28 February 2013). "In Supreme Court Brief, American Sociological Association Obliterates Claim That Same-Sex Couples Are Inferior Parents". Huffington Post. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b "New Family Structure Survey" (PDF). Knowledge Networks. University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  8. ^ "New Family Structures Study". Population Research Center. University of Texas at Austin. Archived from the original on 7 February 2017. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  9. ^ NFSS, page 759
  10. ^ NFSS, page 759
  11. ^ NFSS, page 758
  12. ^ NFSS, page 759
  13. ^ a b c d Resnick, Sofia (11 March 2013). "Conservative group tries to sway SCOTUS on gay marriage with flawed study". Salon. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  14. ^ Watson, Brandon (29 March 2013). "New Documents Contradict Regnerus' Claims on Gay Parenting Study". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
  15. ^ a b "An Academic Auto-da-Fé". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  16. ^ Robert VerBruggen. "The Gay-Parenting Witch Hunt". National Review Online.
  17. ^ Smith, Christian. The Sacred Project of American Sociology. Oxford University Press, 2014
  18. ^ Weber, Jeremy (10 July 2012). "Social Scientists Defend Mark Regnerus' Controversial Study on Same-Sex Parenting". Christianity Today. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  19. ^ "U. of Texas backs professor in battle with gay blogger". Fox News. 3 September 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  20. ^ Marc A. Musick, "A Review of Methodological and Ethical Issues Surrounding the New Family Structures Study" (2014): 16-17, 20.
  21. ^ Sherkat, Darren E. (November 2012). "The Editorial Process and Politicized Scholarship: Monday Morning Editorial Quarterbacking and a Call for Scientific Vigilance". Social Science Research. 41 (6): 1346–1349. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.08.007. PMID 23017955.
  22. ^ Bartlett, Tom (26 July 2012). "Controversial Gay-Parenting Study Is Severely Flawed, Journal's Audit Finds". Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  23. ^ Resnick, Sofia (20 April 2013). "Controversial gay marriage study provokes lawsuit". Salon. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  24. ^ "Controversy Continues Over Gay Parenting Study". Inside Higher Education. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  25. ^ a b c Cheng, Simon; Powell, Brian (2015). "Measurement, methods, and divergent patterns: Reassessing the effects of same-sex parents". Social Science Research. 52: 615–626. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2015.04.005.
  26. ^ a b Rosenfeld, Michael J. (2015). "Revisiting the Data from the New Family Structure Study: Taking Family Instability into Account". Sociological Science. 2: 478to501. doi:10.15195/v2.a23.
  27. ^ a b Schumm, Walter R. (January 1, 2015). "Navigating treacherous waters—one researcher's 40 years of experience with controversial scientific research". Comprehensive Psychology: 6, 7, 18. doi:10.2466/17.CP.4.24. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  28. ^ Pierceson, Jason (2014). Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: The Road to the Supreme Court and Beyond. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 230. ISBN 9781442212053.