Norms for Lesbian and Gay Parenthood as a Function of Gender and Sexual Orientation

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Tate, Doyle, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Patterson, Charlotte, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia

Decisions about whether or not to become a parent are significant parts of normative human development. Many studies have shown that married heterosexual couples are expected to become parents, and that many social pressures enforce this norm. For same-sex couples, however, much less is known about social norms and attitudes surrounding parenthood. This study examined current injunctive norms (i.e. how much people think that others should perform an action) and descriptive norms (i.e. the degree to which people think that others do perform an action) for parenthood as a function of age, gender, and sexual orientation.

Now that marriage has been legally recognized for same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples in the United States (U.S.), the question of whether same-sex attracted individuals are expected to get married and pursue parenthood has new urgency. The existence of a norm for parenthood was still an unknown for same-sex married couples. However, researchers have found that many heterosexual individuals see same-sex parents as less capable than heterosexual parents and report that children of lesbian and gay couples would experience worse outcomes compared to those of heterosexual couples, even after changes in marriage laws. In addition, there has been a dearth of research investigating how lesbian and gay individuals feel about the parenthood decisions of other lesbian and gay people. This study investigated the current state of norms for family formation among lesbian and gay married couples.

The study employed a 2 (heterosexual, lesbian/gay participants) x 2 (male, female) x 4 (early adult, young adult, early middle adult, and older adult age groups) design with 3 repeated measures (lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couple conditions). Participants in an internet survey included 1020 people (522 heterosexual, 498 lesbian/gay) from across the U.S. This study sought to address three main questions: 1) How do norms for parenthood differ depending on the sexual orientation of hypothetical couples pursuing parenthood? 2) How do these normative beliefs depend on the sexual orientation, gender, and age of participants? 3) What do these results indicate about the norms for the pursuit of parenthood among married lesbian and gay couples?

Findings showed that norms, especially descriptive norms, for heterosexual parenthood were much stronger than norms for lesbian and gay parenthood, and that norms for lesbian parenthood were stronger than those for gay male parenthood. These differences were much more pronounced for older, heterosexual, and male participants. However, lesbian and gay participants, especially gay men, reported that married lesbian and gay couples ought to become parents to the same extent as married heterosexual couples. Overall, the results indicated that participants, regardless of sexual orientation, reported that lesbian and gay individuals ought to become parents, but that only a minority of these couples would actually pursue parenthood.

This research provided a glimpse into how Americans are envisioning family formation among same-sex couples today. It also provided some evidence that norms for lesbian and gay parenthood are present, especially among lesbian, gay, and younger heterosexual Americans. In all, somewhat strong injunctive norms for lesbian and gay family formation were found, but descriptive norms were much weaker. The findings add to the understanding of norms for family formation among lesbian and gay married couples.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Parenthood, Lesbian and gay, Norms
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