Charlotte J. Patterson
Professor of Psychology
How does parental sexual orientation affect child development and family lives? Much of my recent work has been designed to address this question. Together with students and other colleagues, I have conducted studies of child development among youngsters who were conceived by lesbian or heterosexual parents, using the resources of a single sperm bank; I have studied children parented by lesbian and heterosexual parents both in Northern California and in Central Virginia; I have studied data about teenagers living with same-sex couples that are drawn from national samples of adolescents in the United States; and I have worked with adoptive families around the country.
Our findings suggest that, while the offspring of lesbian mothers are developing in positive ways, and are in fact difficult to distinguish from the children of heterosexual parents on many assessments, they do experience upbringings that are different in some respects from those of youngsters growing up with heterosexual parents. For instance, lesbian and heterosexual couples describe their divisions of labor in quite different ways, with heterosexual couples more likely to specialize - he in paid employment and she in unpaid household work and childcare - and lesbian couples more likely to share both paid and unpaid labor evenly. I am interested in learning more about what impact this and other differences in their upbringings may have on the offspring of lesbian and gay parents.
Studies that are currently underway include an internet survey of gay fathers, a study of lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples and their adoptive children, and a study of fertility intentions of young adults in sexual minority communities. I hope that this research will shed light on classic questions about what is important in parenting as well as on contemporary legal and policy issues relevant to sexual orientation and family lives.