Higher Percentage of Same-Sex Couples Have Kids in Conservative States and Suburbs, Census Says

Family Matters on 06.28.11
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Photo Credit: Drive-By Times

For the first time ever, the U.S. census has counted same-sex couples as a discrete category.  In past censuses, same-sex couples have been lumped in with couples who identified as "spouses" or "unmarried couples."   In some past state censuses, information has been collected on same-sex couples, but never before have we been able to get a national picture of this demographic.

As the information trickles out, according to an ABC News story, some interesting patterns are beginning to emerge regarding the number of same-sex couples who are raising children.

In general, it seems that a larger percentage of same-sex couples are raising children in the suburbs and rural areas than in urban centers and areas that have a high concentration of same-sex couples.  In addition, the ratio of same-sex couples with children to childless same-sex couples is higher in more socially conservative states.

One example of this difference is the comparison between California and Wyoming.  You might initially think that liberal California would be a friendlier environment for same-sex families with kids than conservative, mostly rural Wyoming.  But the statistics show that, of the same-sex families in Wyoming, 28 percent are raising children; whereas, in California, only 21 percent of these families are raising children.

At this point it's anyone's guess as to what explains this data.  My initial read is that same-sex couples have similar needs and desires for their families as do most people in any other kind of arrangement.  And, like other families, they gravitate towards suburbs where houses are cheaper, schools are better, and crime rates are lower, and states where the cost of living is lower.

As for the phenomenon of a higher percentage of same-sex couples raising kids in socially conservative states than in liberal ones, Gary J. Gates, a demographer from the Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank that concentrates on LGBT issues, has a compelling theory.  He suggests that in conservative states, gay men and lesbians are likely to come out later in life, after they already have children from heterosexual relationships.

One of the most significant implications of the emerging information about these families is the political clout that same-sex families could now wield, since they will be codified as a demographic group that legislators will need to consider.  Stuart Gaffney, a spokesman for Marriage Equality USA explains how this information will contradict the assumption by some politicians that they don't need to take the concerns of gay families into account, especially when thinking about issues like same-sex marriage: "That's why it's so critical to show we are in every state, every city and every county in the United States. There are constituents and they need to know we are here."

Although ultimately I suspect that the genders of the parents have less to do with defining a family than do a whole constellation of other cultural and personal factors, to me it's gratifying when a significant group who had previously been ignored is recognized as at least worth quantifying.  As the old adage that I just now invented says, "Being counted is the first step toward counting."  

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