Sociology LGBT Parenting and Family Formation
Damien W. Riggs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0235


Over the past three decades, rapidly growing numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have become parents. LGBT people may become parents via giving birth or by adopting or fostering children. Some LGBT people may use Assisted Reproductive Technologies as part of their journey to parenthood. Other LGBT people may become parents as part of a blended or stepfamily. Overall, research comparing LGBT-headed families with heterosexual and/or cisgender-headed families demonstrates broadly similar outcomes for children. A key point of difference pertains to experiences of discrimination, which can occur when LGBT parents (and their children) access reproductive services, when engaging with their families of origin, in schools, and in terms of broader societal attitudes. Other points of difference pertain to the division of household labor, views on parenting, and beliefs about the needs of children. In many respects, the research evidence suggests that, across these three areas, LGBT parents engage in practices that positively benefit their children.

Lesbian Parents

Studies focus on outcomes for children, experiences of discrimination, gender roles, and support systems. The studies by Almack 2008 and Gabb 2004 contain results from the United Kingdom. McNair, et al. 2002; Perlesz and McNair 2004; and Rawsthorne and Costello 2010 are based in Australia. Vyncke and Julien 2007 covers France and Canada, while the studies Gartrell and Bos 2010 and Sullivan 1996 focus on the United States.

  • Almack, Kathryn. 2008. Display work: Lesbian parent couples and their families of origin negotiating new kin relationships. Sociology 42.6: 1183–1199.

    Interviews with twenty lesbian couples living in England. Participants spoke about engaging in “display work” as part of becoming parents, with some family members positively taking this up, and others having largely negative responses to lesbian motherhood. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Gabb, Jacqui. 2004. ‘I Could Eat My Baby to Bits’; Passion and desire in lesbian mother–children love. Gender, Place & Culture 11.3: 399–415.

    Interviews with thirteeen lesbian families living in the United Kingdom. Analysis focuses on how the mothers talk about love for their children, and in so doing problematizes normative understandings of maternal affection as it is applied to lesbian mother families. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Gartrell, Nanette, and Henny Bos. 2010. US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological adjustment of 17-year-old adolescents. Pediatrics 126.1: 28–36.

    Questionnaires completed by seventy-eight children born to lesbian mothers and interviews undertaken by their mothers, as part of a longitudinal study of lesbian mother families living in the United States. Findings suggest higher school achievement and lower rates of problem behaviors among these children as compared to normative data from children of heterosexual parents.

  • McNair, Ruth, Deborah Dempsey, Sarah Wise, and Amaryll Perlesz. 2002. Lesbian parenting: Issues, strengths and challenges. Family Matters 63:40–49.

    Survey of 136 Australian lesbian mothers. Participants reported the perception that their children were accepted by the broader community as children of lesbian mothers—however the participants themselves faced challenges related to sexuality that meant that some of the women were selective about disclosing to others.

  • Perlesz, Amaryll, and Ruth McNair. 2004. Lesbian parenting: Insiders’ voices. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 25.3: 129–140.

    Survey completed by 151 Australian lesbian mothers. Some of the participants reported challenges with their children’s schools, and with their own families, in terms of discrimination. Some participants spoke about disenfranchised grief due to lack of acknowledgement of pregnancy losses or the death of a partner by others in the community. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Rawsthorne, Margot, and Mayet Costello. 2010. Cleaning the sink: Exploring the experiences of Australian lesbian parents reconciling work/family responsibilities. Community, Work & Family 13.2: 189–204.

    Interviews with seventeen Australian lesbian mothers. The authors suggest that differing gender roles within lesbian families may help to reduce stress and conflict within the family. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Sullivan, Maureen. 1996. Rozzie and Harriet? Gender and family patterns of lesbian coparents. Gender & Society 10.6: 747–767.

    Interviews with thirty-four lesbian families living in the United States. For a majority of families, there was an equitable distribution of household labor. For a minority, however, there was a clear division of labor, based on one parent being at home and one engaging in paid work outside of the home. Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • Vyncke, Johanna D., and Danielle Julien. 2007. Social support, coming out, and adjustment of lesbian mothers in Canada and France: An exploratory study. Journal of GLBT Family Studies 3.4: 397–424.

    Questionnaires completed by sixty-one lesbian mother couples living in Canada, and fifty-three lesbian mother couples living in France. Participants who were ‘out’ to family and wider social networks reported greater levels of support and relationship adjustment, which in turn was related to increased individual well-being. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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