A landmark study recently performed by Norval Glenn (a sociology professor at UT-Austin), Karen Clark, and Elizabeth Marquardt has found some interesting findings about the social condition of children conceived through sperm donors. The results suggest that children conceived through sperm donors are more likely to suffer significant identity issues, battle depression, and experience a divorce while growing up.
The study surveyed hundreds of individuals who were conceived through sperm donation and asked how they felt about a variety of emotional, psychological, and interpersonal issues. The results were then compared to groups where children were adopted and where children were raised by their biological parents.
Here’s a synopsis of some of the more intriguing findings noted in the executive summary of Glenn, Clark, and Marquardt’s research:
Finding #2: “Family relationships for donor offspring are more often characterized by confusion, tension, and loss.”
In this section, the researchers note that a majority of the respondents indicated they were worried about hurting their parents in an attempt to forge a relationship with the donor. Roughly half indicated some measure of jealousy when observing biologically bound families. Perhaps most intriguingly, roughly half admitted that they worry about what other issues their parents may have lied to them about when growing up.
Finding #4: “Donor offspring are more likely to have experienced divorce or multiple family transitions in their families of origin.”
Here, the researchers noted that 27% of the donor children reported that their parents divorced before the age of 16, compared to 25% of those who were raised by their biological parents and just 14% for those who were adopted. In this instance, the more curious findings are why the divorce rate for families that selected adoption is significantly lower.
Finding #5: “Donor offspring are significantly more likely than those raised by their biological parents to struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression, even when controlling for socioeconomic and other factors.”
Here, the differences between children from sperm donation and children raised by biological parents are quite staggering. Children conceived through sperm donation were reported to be twice as likely to get in trouble with the law before the age of 25, 50% more likely to suffer significant mental health problems, and twice as likely to face substance abuse problems.
Exactly what factors are driving these findings is sure to be a much debated issue, as is the question of whether the findings themselves are valid. Though Norval Glenn boasts impressive academic credentials, one of the co-investigators, Karen Clark, admits that she found out as a teenager that she was conceived through sperm donation and has since become an “advocate.” Reasonable concerns over objectivity can be raised in light of her own personal story.
Karen Clark, one of the other co-investigators, comes from a theological background and appears to have negligible professional training in the social sciences (her CV is readily available on the familyscholars.org web site). A quick review of familyscholars.org’s publication list reveals that the organization is anything but objective on the subjects it researches. That alone doesn’t discredit the validity of this piece of research, but it should cause any reader to take the findings with a grain of salt. After all, the cardinal rule of social science inquiry is that you do not debate preferences.
Questions of objectivity aside, the study has succeeded in sparking a renewed interest in the ethical and psychological dimensions of sperm donation and artificial child rearing practices, and promises to be a much discussed research project in the months and years to come.
“My Daddy’s Name is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation.” Executive Summary. Elizabeth Marquardt, Norval Glenn, and Karen Clark. http://www.familyscholars.org/assets/Donor_15findings.pdf. Accessed 6/24/2010.