Children of female same-sex couples fare just as well in terms of health and well-being as children born from different-sex parents, researchers say. This is despite their families reporting higher levels of stress.

Published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the findings corroborate results from previous studies, which highlighted that children with same-sex parents were as likely to have a good physical and mental health as their peers.

The authors now say past publications often relied on unrepresentative convenience samples (formed by participants selected for their accessibility and proximity) and/or fertility clinic recruitment. This fuelled doubts about the accuracy of their conclusions.

In contrast, this latest study was designed using a population-based survey on children's health. The scientists found relatively little differences between both groups, on any of the child outcomes assessed. In this study, male same-sex couples were not included because only a small number of households met the study's methodology.

Strength of the relationships

Ninety-five female same-sex parent households and ninety-five different-sex parent households, were selected from the very large representative National Survey of Child Health. The current study was limited to parents who were raising their own children since birth, without divorce, separation, or adoption.

Through telephone interviews, the scientists collected information on a range of children well-being criteria, including their general health, potential emotional difficulties, coping behaviour and learning abilities. Levels of parental stress, as well as the quality of the couple's and parent-child's relationships were also assessed.

Though same-sex couples reported higher levels of stress, the different children well-being criteria tested by the researchers didn't vary much between same-sex and different-sex families. Perhaps unsurprisingly, what made the difference was not the sex of the parents, but whether they had a strong, positive relationship between them and with their offspring.

"Our study of households with no divorces or other family transitions finds that spouse-partner and parent-child relationships are similar regardless of family structure," say lead researchers Henry Bos and Nanette Gartrell. "These strong relationships are important contributors to good child outcomes, not whether the parents are same-sex or different-sex."

Future studies could focus on larger samples, including male same-sex couples. The scientists also call for more research to understand the source of additional stress for same-sex households. They suggest that intense social scrutiny regarding child outcomes may be a contributing factor.