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Same-Sex Couples Are More Likely to Adopt or Foster Children

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Fifteen percent (14.7%) of the 1.1 million same-sex couples in the United States in 2019 had at least one child under 18 in their household, compared with 37.8% of opposite-sex couples, according to a U.S. Census Bureau analysis of Current Population Survey (CPS) data released this week.

Same-sex couples also tended to have smaller families. Among couples with children, 54.7% of same-sex couples only had one child, compared with 39.2% of opposite-sex couples.

Same-sex couples are four times more likely than opposite-sex couples to have adopted children or stepchildren.

Overall, about 292,000 children had parents living with a same-sex partner or spouse. Two-thirds (66.3%) were children of both partners or spouses, compared with 95.7% of children living with opposite-sex couples.

Children and Their Parents

There is broad diversity in today’s American families. The majority of children who live with couples are the biological children of both partners or spouses but they may also be the stepchildren or adopted children of one or both members of the couple.

Adopted children and stepchildren were especially common among same-sex couples. In 2019, 10.5% of children under 18 who lived with opposite-sex couples were adopted or stepchildren of at least one person in the couple.

Same-sex couples are four times more likely than opposite-sex couples to have adopted children or stepchildren; 43.3% of children of same-sex couples were adopted or stepchildren in 2019.

There are many ways for couples to have biological children, and many dynamics defining American families and their relationship to their children. This is why the Census Bureau collects and shows reported parent-child relationships.


Two Moms or Two Dads?

The American Community Survey (ACS) released today allows us to look at same-sex families in more detail because of its larger sample size.

In 2019, the ACS improved its measure of same-sex couple households, explicitly asking people if they are same-sex or opposite-sex spouses or partners. 

According to the ACS, same-sex parents were more likely to be female. In 2019, 22.5% of female same-sex couple households had children under 18 present, compared with 6.6% of male same-sex couple households.

In households with children, neither male nor female same-sex couple households were more likely to have biological children present, although male same-sex couple households were more likely to have adopted children and less likely to have stepchildren.


Who Is More Likely to Adopt?

Overall, same-sex couples were more likely (3.1%) than opposite-sex couples (1.1%) to adopt a child.  In fact, 20.9% of same-sex couples with children had adopted children; the same was true for 2.9% of opposite-sex couples with children.  

Same-sex couples were also more likely (0.5%) than opposite-sex couples (0.2%) to foster children.  


Danielle Taylor is a statistician in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch.


Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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