While there is increasing support for same-sex parent families and recent state-wide legalization of marriages to same-sex couples in the U.S., there is only a small body of research that examines the economic, academic, social, or psychological well-being of children living in same-sex parent families (Manning et al. 2014). There are increasing numbers of children residing in same-sex couple parent families, but a key constraint has been that there are relatively few data sets with ample numbers of children residing in same-sex parent families.
We use recent and nationally representative data, the Current Population Survey 2010-2013, to examine the economic well-being of children in same-sex cohabiting mother families. Until recently, the U.S. official poverty estimates excluded the cohabiting partner as a provider and consumer in the family (Brown, Manning, & Payne, 2016). The official measure seems outmoded as it does not recognize cohabiting partners as part of the family unit. This approach is especially problematic given cohabitation is an increasingly common family context to have and raise children.
A new indicator has been developed, ‘supplemental poverty,’ which includes the cohabiting partner’s income as part of the family income estimate and the cohabiting partner in count of family size. We focus on five two-parent types of families based on the gender composition of the parents, formal relationship status, and biological relationship of child to parents: different-sex married two-biological parents, different-sex married stepfather, different-sex cohabiting two biological parents, different-sex cohabiting stepfather, and cohabiting mother families. We identify 229 (0.2%) children living in cohabiting mother families.
Our analyses of the CPS data indicate that in cohabiting mother families, mothers’ average age was comparable to married mothers and older than different-sex cohabiting mothers. Education levels in cohabiting mother families were comparable to those of parents in married two-biological parent families—about 40 % reported having at least a college degree. In contrast, the education levels in different-sex cohabiting family types were much lower. Mother’s work hours were high among cohabiting mother families; each partner worked on average at least 30 hours a week.
Analysis of the CPS supplemental poverty measure indicates that children in cohabiting mother families fare similarly to children in different-sex cohabiting families and to children in married parent families. Using the official poverty measure, children in cohabiting mother families appeared to be economically disadvantaged. Yet our findings provide evidence that accounting for the monetary contributions of the cohabiting partner is tied to lower odds of poverty for children in same-sex cohabiting mother families.
These findings demonstrate the importance of considering a wide range of family types when assessing child well-being. Further, the supplemental poverty statistics in the U.S. provide a more complete portrait of children’s economic well-being, particularly for children in cohabiting parent families. This is critical for understanding well-being in same-sex parent families as the vast majority were cohabiting parent families. The data prevented analysis of children in same-sex father families as well as gay and lesbian parents living alone, so additional work on this topic is warranted. Another important next step is to consider the implications of parental marriage for children raised in same-sex parent families.
Brown, Susan L., Wendy D. Manning, and Krista K. Payne. 2016. “Family Structure and Children’s Economic Well-Being: Incorporating Same-Sex Cohabiting Mother Families.” Population Research and Policy Review 35:1-21.