Children of same-sex parents show similar levels of mental health as children of heterosexual parents, according to a new Italian study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

With the rise of assisted reproductive technologies, parenthood has become more accessible for same-sex couples. The new study adds to the growing body of evidence showing no increase in problems for children of gay or lesbian parents, compared to children of different-sex parents.

“Our findings suggested that children with same-sex parents fare well, both in terms of psychological adjustment and prosocial behavior,” said Professor Roberto Baiocco, Ph.D., and colleagues of Sapienza University of Rome.

The study involved three groups of Italian parents: 70 gay fathers who had children through surrogacy, 125 lesbian mothers who had children through donor insemination, and 195 heterosexual couples who had children through spontaneous conception. The children were 3 to 11 years old; the groups were matched for child characteristics.

Parents answered questions about their ability to act successfully as parents (self-agency), extent of agreement/adjustment between parents, family functioning, and the child’s psychological adjustment, including the child’s “strengths and difficulties.” Outcomes were compared for families with lesbian, gay, or heterosexual parents, with adjustment for other factors.

The findings showed no major differences in the children’s psychological adjustment among the three groups of families. Overall, children of same-sex parents had fewer reported difficulties than children of different-sex parents. Scores were in the normal range for all three groups.

Similar to findings from previous studies, girls were reported as being “more prosocial” and having fewer externalizing problems (such as aggressive behavior), compared to boys, among all three types of families.

Among all groups, parents who felt less competent as parents, were less satisfied in their relationship, and perceived lower levels of family flexibility reported more problems in their children.

“Family structure is not predictive of child health outcomes once family process variables are taken into account,” write the researchers.

Some indicators of family functioning were better among same-sex parents, particularly for gay fathers. This might be due to the high level of commitment needed for gay men to become parents via surrogacy, researchers said.

They also note that the gay dads in the study were older, financially stronger, better educated, and had more stable relationships than the lesbian mothers and different-sex parents.

The findings may have special implications for same-sex parents in Italy where lesbian women and gay men are denied access to assisted reproduction techniques.

“The present study warns policymakers against making assumptions on the basis of sexual orientation about people who are more suited than others to be parents or about people who should or should not be denied access to fertility treatments,” write the researchers.

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health