07/10/2014 12:31 EDT | Updated 09/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Want a Successful Family? Learn From Same-Sex Parents

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Different-sex parents, apparently, have a few things to learn about how to run a household from same-sex parents. New evidence concludes that because same-sex couples allocate household chores based on each individual parent's suitability for the job, rather than on gender stereotypes, children from those homes are growing up in happier and more harmonious family environments.

Researchers on this Australian study compared the health and wellbeing outcomes of 500 children living with same-sex parents (both male and female) to the health and wellbeing outcomes experienced by children in the general population. After controlling for parental income and education (both of which were higher in the same-sex parent group), they found that children of gay and lesbian couples scored 6 per cent higher in terms of general health, 3 per cent higher in terms of general behaviour, and 6 per cent higher in terms of family cohesion.

Despite the negative social environment created by stigmatization (also evident in the data), the same-sex-parented children in this sample scored at the same level, or higher, on every measure of well-being as the children in different-sex parent families.

An earlier study provides some insight on how same-sex-parented families are able to create a better environment for their children: it is because chores in these families are allocated more efficiently, and equitably, than they are in different-parent families.

In an efficient home, chores are divided up according to relative strengths and weaknesses of each parent and that work is equitably divided. This is not only because an equitable division minimizes conflict, but also because it is the division that maximizes the total output of love and clean laundry for the family.

I suspect very few families run efficient households and this is because human history has left us with a deep-seated, and mistaken, belief that women are genetically programed only to excel at caregiving and that men are genetically programed only to excel at providing.

For evidence of this, consider the recent palaver over the Mother's and Father's Day emails sent by Minister of Justice Peter McKay to his staff that congratulated mothers on their time spent caregiving while congratulating fathers on their time spent on teaching and guiding their children.

I would like to finish with a story that illustrates how difficult is for all families to free themselves from the preconception that individual talents are based on gender.

This month, an unconventional family in Massachusetts will be welcoming a baby into their female-headed household. When questioned about how they made their parenting decision, the pregnant wife responded, "We decided that I'd be the one to carry the babies because I'd like to be a full-time [mother]."

Despite their unconventional marital arrangement, these mothers have essentially chosen to allocate childcare responsibilities based purely on the societal convention that says that it is the act of giving birth that makes a woman better suited to be the caregiver.

I have no way of knowing if this is the efficient allocation of responsibilities for this particular family, but that really is the point. The only ones who really know the most productive way to undertake household production are the parents themselves, and the evidence from same-sex parents suggests that many of us could be doing a better job.

This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail.


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