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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Research on same-sex relationships has informed policy debates and legal decisions that greatly affect American families, yet the data and methods available to scholars studying same-sex relationships have been limited.
In this article the authors review current approaches to studying same-sex relationships and ificant challenges for this research.
After exploring how researchers have dealt with these challenges in prior studies, the authors discuss promising strategies and methods to advance future research on same-sex relationships, with particular attention given to gendered contexts and dyadic research des, quasi-experimental des, and a relationship biography approach. Innovation and advances in the study of same-sex relationships will further theoretical and empirical knowledge in family studies more broadly and increase understanding of different-sex as well as same-sex relationships.
One of the most high-stakes debates in the United States today concerns whether and how same-sex relationships influence the health and well-being of individuals, families, and even society. Snyder, ; Hollingsworth v.
Perry, Therefore, it is critical that family scholars develop a scientifically driven agenda to advance a coordinated and informed program of research in this area. Advances in theory and research on marriage and family are inherently shaped by the changing contours of family life over time.
A of factors point to similarly ificant advances in data and research on same-sex relationships in the near future. First, the of individuals in same-sex unions is ificant; recent data from the U. Census indicate that aboutsame-sex couples reside in the United States, withof those couples in legal marriages and anotherin some other form of legally recognized partnership Gates, b.
Second, the increasing of states that legally recognize same-sex marriage now at 19 states and the District of Columbia, and likely more by the time this article is publishedand the U. Third, growing efforts by the federal government to identify same-sex couples in U. Census counts and national surveys e.
We organize this article into three main sections. First, we provide a brief overview of current research and data on same-sex relationships, distinguishing between studies that examine individuals in same-sex relationships and those that examine same-sex couples i. These two approaches are often conflated, yet they address different kinds of questions.
In the second section we consider common methodological challenges encountered in studies of same-sex relationships as well as strategies for addressing these challenges, with particular attention to identifying individuals in same-sex relationships and sample size concerns, addressing gender and sexual identity, recruiting respondents, and choosing comparison groups for studies of same-sex relationships.
In the third section we discuss promising strategies for future research on same-sex relationships, with a focus on gendered relational contexts and dyadic research des, quasi-experimental des, and a relationship biography approach. We hope that this article, by drawing on multiple perspectives and methods in the study of same-sex relationships, will advance future research on same-sex unions.
Although we discuss details of specific studies, the present article is not intended to be a comprehensive review of research findings on same-sex relationships; our primary focus is on data concerns and methodological strategies. We refer readers to several outstanding reviews of research on same-sex relationships see, e. In the face of challenges to research on same-sex relationships, including the past failure of federally supported data collections to include measures that clearly identify same-sex relationships, scholars have been creative in data collection and methodological strategies for research.
In most analyses that use probability samples and quantitative methods, social scientists analyze data from individuals in same-sex relationships e. Both approaches are essential to advancing our understanding of same-sex relationships.
Studies on individuals in same-sex relationships, especially those in which nationally representative data are used, have been essential in evaluating similarities and differences between individuals in same-sex relationships and different-sex relationships. Given the decades of research showing the many benefits of marriage for men and women in different-sex relationships Waite,research on the possible benefits of marriage for individuals in same-sex relationships is an important endeavor.
However, in contrast to research on different-sex partnerships, scholars lack longitudinal data from probability samples that enable analysis of the consequences of same-sex relationships for health outcomes over time. Most probability samples used to study individuals in same-sex relationships have not been deed to assess relationship dynamics or other psychosocial variables e. As a result, most qualitative and quantitative studies addressing questions about same-sex relationship dynamics have relied on smaller, nonprobability samples.
Although these studies are limited in generalizability, a of findings have been replicated across data sets including longitudinal and cross-sectional qualitative and quantitative des. The HCMST data make it possible to address questions about relationship stability over time, finding, for example, that same-sex and different-sex couples have similar break-up rates once marital status is taken into Rosenfeld Data sets that include information from both partners in a relationship i.
Therefore, dyadic data have been used to advance our understanding of same-sex partner dynamics. A few nonprobability samples that include dyadic data have also incorporated a longitudinal de e. Although current data are characterized by several limitations, this is no reason to avoid the study of same-sex relationships. Indeed, it is important to triangulate a range of qualitative and quantitative research des and sources of data in efforts to identify consistent patterns in same-sex relationships across studies and to draw on innovative strategies that add to our knowledge of same-sex relationships.
In the sections that follow we point to some specific challenges to, advances in, and strategies for research on same-sex relationships. Studies that rely on probability samples e. Census raise different concerns because these samples were not originally deed to identify people in same-sex relationships and do not directly ask about the sexual orientation or sex of partners. A particularly problematic approach for identifying individuals in same-sex relationships is the use of proxy reports. For example, a recent study Regnerus,which purportedly showed adverse effects of same-sex parents on children, has been widely criticized for using retrospective proxy reports from adult children to identify a parent as having ever been involved in a same-sex relationship for a critique, see Perrin et al.
Although the findings from this study have been largely discredited Perrin et al. This use of social science research highlights the importance of adhering to best practices for research on same-sex relationships which several U. An additional challenge is the small of people in same-sex relationships, making it difficult to recruit substantial s of respondents and to achieve racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity in samples of persons in same-sex relationships Black et al.
One strategy to deal with small samples of individuals in same-sex relationships has been to pool data across years or data sets to obtain a sufficient of cases for analysis e. For example, Ladies seeking sex Needham Alabama pooled data from the National Health Interview Survey, Liu and colleagues found that socioeconomic status suppressed the health disadvantage of same-sex cohabitors compared with different-sex married adults.
Other studies have pooled data across different states to achieve larger and more representative samples, focusing especially on states with higher concentrations of same-sex couples. For example, Blosnich and Bossarte aggregated 3 years of state-level data from 24 states to compare rates and consequences of intimate partner violence in same- and different-sex relationships and found that victims of intimate partner violence report poorer health outcomes regardless of sex of perpetrator.
But current scholarship highlights the need to go beyond the male—female binary to take into transgender and transsexual identities by measuring sex ased at birth and current sex or gender Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, ; Pfeffer, and to measure both gender identity i. This approach pushes us to think about how gender identity and presentation might shape or modify relationship experiences of partners within same- and different-sex relationships.
For example, gender identity may be more important than sex in driving housework in equality between partners in both same- and different-sex relationships. Scholars can further consider how these aspects of gender and sexuality may vary across diverse populations. Similarly, studies need to include questions about multiple aspects of sexuality e. For example, this would allow for the examination of differences between people in same-sex relationships who identify as bisexual and those who identify as gay or lesbian; individuals in mixed-orientation marriages e.
Ladies seeking sex Needham Alabama to gender identity and presentation in future research will lead to a more nuanced understanding of gendered dynamics within different- as well as same-sex relationships.
Recruiting people for studies of same-sex relationships poses several unique challenges beyond typical recruitment concerns. Past strategies have included working with community partners e. Decisions about the definition and composition of comparison groups in studies that compare same-sex relationships to different-sex relationships are critical because same-sex couples are demographically distinct from different-sex couples; individuals in same-sex couples are younger, more Ladies seeking sex Needham Alabama, more likely to be employed, less likely to have children, and slightly more likely to be female than individuals in different-sex couples Gates, b.
For example, researchers may erroneously conclude that relationship dynamics differ for same- and different-sex couples when it is in fact parental status differences between same- and different-sex couples that shape relationship dynamics. Three specific comparison group considerations that create unique challenges—and opportunities—for research on same-sex relationships include a a shifting legal landscape, b parental status, and c unpartnered individuals.
As legal options have expanded for same-sex couples, more studies have compared people in same-sex marriages and civil unions or registered domestic partnerships with people in different-sex married partnerships e. Yet because legal options vary across states and over time, the same statuses are not available to all same-sex couples.
This shifting legal landscape introduces ificant challenges, in particular for scholars who attempt to compare same-sex couples with different-sex couples, because most same-sex couples have not married or even had the option of marryingwhereas most different-sex couples have had ample opportunity to marry.
One strategy for addressing this complexity is to collect data in states that legally acknowledge same-sex partnerships. For example, Rothblum and colleagues Rothblum et al. This de, which could be adapted for qualitative or quantitative studies, allowed the researchers to compare three types of couples and address potentially confounding variables e. Gates and Badgett argued that future research comparing different legal statuses and legal contexts across states will help us better understand what is potentially unique about marriage e.
A related challenge is that same-sex couples in legal unions may have cohabited for many years but been in a legal union for a short time because legal union status became available only recently. This limits investigation into the implications of same-sex marriage given that marriage is conflated with relationship duration.
One strategy for dealing with this is to match same- and different-sex couples in the same legal status e. An additional complication is that historical changes in legal options for persons in same-sex relationships contribute to different relationship histories across successive birth cohorts, an issue we address later, in our discussion of relationship biography and directions for future research.
Future studies might also consider whether access to legal marriage influences the stability and duration of same-sex relationships, perhaps using quasi-experimental methods also discussed below. Individuals in same-sex relationships are nested within larger kinship systems, in particular those that include children and parents, and family dynamics may diverge from patterns found for individuals in different-sex relationships Ocobock, ; Patterson, ; Reczek, For example, some studies suggest that, compared with individuals in different-sex relationships, those in same-sex relationships experience more strain and less contact with their families of origin Rothblum, Marriage holds great symbolic ificance that may alter how others, including family members, view and interact with individuals in same-sex unions Badgett, Past research shows that individuals in different-sex marriages are more involved with their family of origin than are those in different-sex cohabiting unions.
Future research should further explore how the transition from cohabitation to marriage alters relationships with other family members including relationships with families of origin for those in same-sex unions Ocobock, Although a full discussion of data and methodological issues concerning larger kinship systems is beyond the scope of this article see Ocobock, ; Patterson,we focus on one aspect of kinship—parental status—to demonstrate some important comparison group considerations.
Parental status varies for same- and different-sex couples and can confound differences between these two groups as well as within groups of same-sex couples e. Moreover, because having children contributes to relationship stability for different-sex couples, parental status differences between same- and different-sex couples could contribute to differences in relationship stability Joyner et al. Same-sex Ladies seeking sex Needham Alabama are less likely than different-sex couples to be raising children, although this distinction is diminishing, albeit modestly Gates, b.
Same-sex partners living with children are also more likely to be female than male and tend to be more economically disadvantaged and to be from racial minority groups than same-sex couples without children Gates, a. Pathways to parenthood are diverse among same-sex couples e. A history of different-sex marriage and divorce may influence current relationship dynamics for individuals in same-sex unions. One strategy for addressing parental status is to match same- and different-sex comparison groups on parental status so that parents are compared with parents and nonparents are compared with nonparents e.
A second strategy for quantitative researchers is to consider parental status as potentially confounding or moderating the effects of union status on selected outcomes. For example, Denney and colleagues found that parental status is an important moderator in understanding health disparities between women in same-sex and different-sex relationships, in that having children was associated with poorer health for women in same-sex relationships than for women in different-sex relationships.
We further recommend that social scientists understand—and embrace—the diverse ways that parental status varies across union types. It is impossible to fully eliminate uncontrolled-variable bias, and we know that same-sex partners who are parents differ in other important ways from different-sex partners, in particular in terms of sociodemographic characteristics.
Moreover, many same-sex partners did not have the option of becoming parents because of barriers to adoption as well as a lack of access to or the prohibitive cost of reproductive technologies, and this unique history shapes their relationship experiences Brewster et al.Ladies seeking sex Needham Alabama
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Challenges and Opportunities for Research on Same-Sex Relationships