Is there a difference in the gender identity development of children raised by same-sex parents and those adopted by heterosexual couples? No, according to a recent study.
Lead author Rachel Farr of the University of Kentucky in the U.S. said that the toys that children prefer to play with in their preschool years are much more tell-tale about whether they will grow up to conform to typical gender norms or not.
The study included 106 families headed by lesbian, gay or heterosexual parents. Farr and her team examine how gender-typical behaviour develops over time within different family structures, and whether it remains relatively consistent as children grow older.
The researchers observed the play styles and the toys that the families' preschool children preferred during playtime. The parents also completed relevant questionnaires. Farr's team returned five years later to interview the children.
The types of play and behaviour that most children displayed were found to be typical of their gender, and already appeared to be set in motion from early childhood onwards. The few preschool children who played more with toys that are not typically assigned to their sex were in their later school years more likely to aspire to jobs and to prefer activities that are not typically ascribed to their gender.
The data show that family structure had little influence on how children's sense of gender would develop. Moreover, little truth was found in the idea that lesbian or gay parents might encourage or allow more gender nonconformity among their children.
"Parental sexual orientation and family type did not affect children's gender conformity or nonconformity in any significant way," emphasized Farr. "Our results suggest that the gender development of children adopted by both lesbian and gay parents proceeds in typical ways, and is similar to that of children adopted by heterosexual couples. It therefore appears that having both a male and female role model in the home is not necessary for facilitating typical gender development among adopted children, nor does it discourage gender nonconformity."
Farr believes that the findings may help attorneys, judges, social workers, and adoption agencies when they consider issues about how the sexual orientation of parents may influence the development of their children's gender roles.
The findings are published in Springer's journal Sex Roles.