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"Gay and lesbian family issues"

Videointerview mit Karsten Hank

Im Interview: Karsten Hank

Auf Kölns Straßen demonstrieren jedes Jahr Homosexuelle für mehr Rechte - der Christopher Street Day 2016 war so politisch wie lange nicht mehr. Im Interview aus der Reihe "Coffee Chat with..." mit Professor Karsten Hank vom Institut für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie (ISS) geht es unter anderem um seine aktuelle Forschung, die sich mit schwulen und lesbischen Beziehungen in Familien beschäftigt.


Hier der Link zum englischsprachigen Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JIIBleAS8E


"Coffee Chat with..." Professor Dr. Karsten Hank!


Laurin Meyer: Prof. Hank, some of your recent research deals with gays’ and lesbians’ relationships within families. How much worse is it to grow up with homosexual parents?

Prof. Karsten Hank: Well, there is indeed great public concern that children being raised by same sex parents might grow up worse than those being raised by heterosexual parents. And this concern is also reflected in the legislation: Politicians make it much more difficult for same sex couples to adopt a child than for heterosexual couples. But social science research provides no evidence at all that children being raised by same sex parents grow up worse than those of heterosexual parents.

Meyer: If that is the case, can you think of any other surprising findings in this field, maybe even from your own work?

Hank: When I started to get interested in gay and lesbian family issues, my first surprise was how little research there was on that topic up to that point in time. In Germany we are in the lucky situation that there is the German Family Panel, called pairfam, which started with an initial sample of 12.000 respondents. That was large enough to include a sufficient number of homosexuals to allow quantitative analyses on this group. In one study we looked at intergenerational relationship quality, comparing gay and lesbian children with heterosexual children. We were interested in whether the quality of the relationship to their parents was better or worse depending on their sexual orientation.

Meyer: What was the result?

Hank: We found no difference at all, which is good news.

Meyer: Why are you interested in gays and lesbians family issues?

Hank: The gay and lesbian population allows us to further test many of our theories and assumptions which were initially developed taking a perspective on heterosexuals only. The actual idea to dig into this topic, however, came when I saw that in almost every pairfam presentation it says homosexuals were deleted from this analysis – because it would mess up the sample, if we would pool heterosexuals and homosexuals. And I thought, these interviews with the homosexuals cost taxpayers money and somebody has to do something with it.

Meyer: For the German Family Panel you ask people questions about frequency and quality of sexual intercourse. How can you be sure that your study participants tell you the truth?

Hank: Well, we cannot be sure that they tell us the truth. But it is said that the respondent never lies and you only have to interpret his or her answers correctly.  Fortunately we know quite a bit about people’s response behaviors. We know that there is an effect called social desirability. People tend to give the answer they think they are expected to give or they think is politically correct. We know that males report higher incomes when they are interviewed by females instead of males.
In the interviews for pairfam, when it comes to these sensitive questions, we have specific approach to prevent these effects. Pairfam interviews are conducted as computer-assisted personal interviews. For all the questions about sexuality, the interviewer just turns around the computer and the respondent is supposed to enter the answers by himself or herself.
By the way: My first encounter with pairfam was as a secondary respondent. My wife was drawn for the pairfam pre-test-sample in Mannheim and one of my students interviewed her about our relationship. And I as well had to answer some sensitive questions and my colleagues are still threatening me that one day they are going to identify us in the data.

Meyer: So first, you and your colleagues put a lot of effort in your work and publish it. But then, the media and politicians might come along and misunderstand your results - isn’t that a problem?

Hank: That is a problem and sometimes it is really frustrating. Though I think we have to be fair, if we talk about politicians. They have their own interests, they want to be re-elected in the next elections and there is no reason to complain about that. If you think of a current example, extending working life until the age of 70 - that is nothing anybody is spontaneously happy about. But there are good reasons to extend working life until the age of 70. We as scientists have to educate politicians, so that they realize that in the end, extending working life until the age of 70 is in the interest of their voters. If we convince politicians, politicians will be hopefully able to convince their voters. And if we convince journalists, they will inform the public and we will hopefully end up living in in a better world. 

Meyer: Were your results ever misinterpreted?

Hank: My first job after I finished my diploma at the University of Bochum was to work for the ‘Armutsbericht’ North-Rhine Westphalia 1998. And we produced tons of statistics and one indicator showed a decline in poverty in North-Rhine Westphalia, while all other indicators showed that there might even be a slight increase. And you can imagine the press information that the ministry gave the next day: ‘Poverty in North-Rhine Westphalia is declining.’ That was a very important lesson for me.

Meyer: So you have to work hard to convince politicians.

Hank: I think that is one of the dominant aims of most researchers in our department to provide a sound scientific basis for policy makers. There are hypothesis like the one that parents of homosexual children should comply with hetero norms. In other words: ‘We expect you to give us a grandchild and we expect you to give us a son-in-law.’ But that is not the case. And that surprised me. I mean that are very good news. So it seems that a lot of the debate about homosexuals being so different is actually a discussion without any sound empirical basis.

Meyer: How can students in Cologne take advantage from these insights?

Hank: Well, our students are the future scientists. Hopefully, if we educate them well, they will continue to provide information for politicians. And if they become politicians, they will hopefully be aware of social science research and that this might be relevant knowledge for them when they make decisions.


Interview: Nándor Hulverscheidt & Laurin Meyer