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March 22, 2004

Children Don't Grow on Trees

Something right at the beginning of an article about the San Jose Mercury News's statistical analysis of gay couples in California raises an eyebrow (emphasis added):

A Norman Rockwell painting they're not. But many of California's same-sex households reflect a more traditional lifestyle than is often recognized in the national debate over gay marriage, according to a San Jose Mercury News analysis of census data.

Children from diaper age to high schoolers reside in nearly a third of the state's gay and lesbian households, which also tend to be headed by partners who are better educated and slightly more affluent than married Californians.

More than half of same-sex couples own their own home. And though they can't legally marry, as many as a third have tied the knot before.

As with many of these statistical analyses, tracking down the source data would require some research, and I'm not going to devote the time to the effort. However, I do wonder what, specifically, counted as residing in a household.

Crowley and Rinaldi are among 29 percent of the state's same-sex households that have children under 18 at home, a relatively high proportion considering that more than half the couples are gay men who cannot bear children and face bigger hurdles adopting or gaining custody of children from previous marriages.

It's odd that the influence of custody practices is allowed to pass out of the report so quickly, particularly since it's likely that many of the children in question are from previous marriages:

Like Crowley and Rinaldi, lesbians are more likely to have children living with them, 37 percent statewide, than are gay men, 23 percent. ...

The number of gays and lesbians who have been married before is difficult to pin down. The 2000 census found that 35 percent of same-sex partners in California had once been married, but demographers say that estimate is inaccurate because of a flaw in the U.S. Census Bureau's calculation.

This "more traditional lifestyle" seems largely to be preceded by divorce, with mothers — subsequently lesbians — having the larger share of custody. I'd be curious to see what percentage of single divorced people have children in the household. Yes, the "faces" that the journalist puts on these numbers are more varied than the comparison implies (with adoption and lesbian IVF represented), but it's a Media Reader 101 lesson that one can't take representative profiles as representative.

Posted by Justin Katz at March 22, 2004 9:05 PM
Marriage & Family