Proportionally fewer same-sex couples are raising children today than in 2006, and their families reflect greater racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity than often represented in the media and academic research, according to new analyses by Williams Distinguished Scholar Dr. Gary Gates, published by the National Council of Family Relations. “These findings debunk popular misconceptions about parenting among same-sex couples, particularly that those raising children are predominantly white, urban and wealthy,” said author Gates.

Demographic data shows significant diversity among same-sex couples with children. These families live throughout the country: of same-sex couples by region, 26% in the South, 24% in New England, and 21% in the Pacific states are raising children. Childrearing is substantially higher among racial/ethnic minorities and African Americans, in particular, are 2.4 times more likely than their white counterparts to be raising children. Furthermore, among individuals in same-sex couples who did not finish high school, 43% are raising children, and 20% of children raised by same-sex couples live in poverty.

Curiously, the proportion of same-sex couples raising children has begun to decline. In the 2000 census, more than 17% of same-sex couples were raising children. That proportion peaked at 19% in 2006 and has declined to 16% in 2009. Despite the decline, the number of same-sex couples raising children is still much higher today than ten years ago, since many more couples are reporting themselves in Census Bureau data. In 2000, the Census reported about 63,000 couples raising children. Today, the figure is now more than 110,000.

The decrease in the proportion of couples raising children may be due to decreases in parenting by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals who had children at a relatively young age while in a relationship with a different-sex partner. Different-sex relationships at a relatively young age are a common path to parenthood for LGB men and women. Gates’ analyses show that LGB individuals are younger than non-LGB individuals when they have their first child (22.5 years compared to 24.1 years respectively), and individuals in same-sex couples who were previously married are much more likely to have biological or stepchildren than those who were never married (23.5% compared to 9.5% respectively).

Despite proportional declines in parenting, Gates’ analyses show that adoptive parenting is clearly increasing. Among couples with children, the proportion of same-sex couples who have adopted children has nearly doubled from 10% to 19% between 2000 and 2009. Same-sex couples with adopted children are twice as likely to be white, to have obtained a higher level of education, and to have never been previously married. “Clearly, the decade saw a substantial rise in adoptive parenting,” said Gates, “but this increase has seemingly been outpaced by fewer LGB individuals having children early in life.” Declining social stigma toward LGB people may mean that more are coming out earlier in life and are becoming less likely to have children with different-sex partners.

The study’s findings have significant implications for research and policy. The geographic data suggests that many same-sex couples with children live in states with limited or no legal protections for their families. Furthermore, the diverse portrait of LGB families challenges scholars to broaden their research on parenting by same-sex couples and statistical agencies to do a better job of collecting data about LGBT individuals and their families.