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Centre for Family Research


Examples of Research Questions

Many children conceived by donor insemination are not told about their donor conception – what effect does this have on the children?

Are the sons and daughters of same-sex parents less stereotyped in their behaviour and attitudes than their counterparts from traditional families?

How do children born through a surrogacy arrangement feel about their surrogate mother?

How do children conceived by egg donation from a relative or family friend respond to the discovery that a person they know of as an aunt turns out to be their genetic mother?

Many assumptions are made about the potentially negative outcomes for children of being raised in families that differ from the norm. The aim of our research is to provide empirical data on the actual consequences for parents and their children of new family forms, and, from these studies, to learn more generally about the processes in families that contribute towards positive family relationships and well adjusted children.

Publications arising from our research can be found on the individual pages of the members of the team.


Team members, past & present:

Professor Susan Golombok: former Director of the Centre for Family Research, now Professor Emerita

Dr Susie Bower-Brown: former Research Associate, now Alumna

Dr Susan Imrie: former Research Associate, now Visiting Researcher

Dr Vasanti Jadva: former Principal Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer, now Visiting Researcher

Dr Kitty Jones: former Research Associate, now Alumna

Dr Joanna Lysons: Research Associate

Maisie Matthews: former MPhil student, now visiting Ph.D. student

Professor Martin Richards: Emeritus Professor

Kate Shaw: former Research Assistant, now Alumna

Capucine Poncet: former Research Assistant, now Alumna


Research Projects

Shared biological motherhood: Parent-child relationships and child adjustment in lesbian mother families formed through partner-donated eggs.

Funded by: ESRC (2019-2022)

Susan Golombok (PI)

The growth of assisted reproductive technologies in the 1980s resulted in donor insemination becoming a new route to parenthood for lesbian women. In these lesbian mother families, the mother who becomes pregnant has a biological connection to the child whereas the other mother does not. In 2010, lesbian couples began to have children through shared biological parenting whereby one woman’s egg is used to create an embryo with donated sperm and the other woman undergoes the pregnancy, a procedure that enables both mothers to have a biological connection to their child; the mother who provides the egg has a genetic connection whereas the mother who hosts the pregnancy has a gestational connection. This study explores mother-child relationships and the psychological adjustment of children born through shared biological motherhood. The investigation will provide important empirical data on the outcomes for parents and children in families formed in this novel way. The research will also provide an opportunity to examine the relative importance of genetic and gestational relatedness between children and their mothers in the development of secure attachment relationships. The over-arching research question that the study will address is whether a genetic or a gestational connection is more important for maternal bonding and for the development of secure attachment relationships between children and their mothers. The study will also address the question of whether shared biological motherhood results in more positive maternal psychological wellbeing, more positive partner relationships and more positive child adjustment compared to lesbian mother families formed by donor insemination in which only one mother is biologically related to the child.


21st Century Families: Parent-child relationships and children’s psychological wellbeing

Funded by: Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award

Susan Golombok (PI) Vasanti Jadva (CI)

New pathways to parenthood have recently emerged that did not exist, nor had even been imagined, at the turn of the 21st century. Individuals who were previously unknown to each other have begun to meet over the internet with the purpose of having children together; transgender men and women have begun to have children through medically assisted reproduction; single heterosexual men have begun to use surrogacy to become single fathers by choice; and women have begun to use identifiable egg donors to have children. These alternative family structures radically challenge the ideal of the traditional nuclear family and raise new ethical, social and psychological concerns, particularly regarding the potentially negative consequences for children.

The overall aim of the Collaborator Award is to provide empirical evidence from a multidisciplinary perspective on the consequences for children of growing up in family forms that are emerging at the start of the 21st century. Our specific aims are to increase understanding of new family arrangements involving non-cohabiting co-parents, transgender parents, elective single fathers and identifiable egg donors. The research questions we shall address are:

(i)      Does parenting in these new family forms differ from parenting in traditional families?

(ii)    What are the social and psychological outcomes for children?

(iii)   And how does the socio-cultural context in which these families are situated influence parenting and child development?


Future Families: The social and psychological outcomes of emerging assisted reproductive technologies for individuals, families and society

Funded by: Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award

Susan Golombok (PI)

Advances in assisted reproductive technologies in combination with recent legislative changes, have given rise to new family forms that would not otherwise have existed, such as gay fathers whose children are born through surrogacy and egg donation, single mothers by choice who conceive their children by donor insemination and intentionally parent alone, and donor siblings who are conceived using the same donor but raised in different families. The aim of the research is to conduct the first studies of these emerging family forms that have resulted from 21st century applications of assisted reproductive technologies. Specific investigations include a study of gay father families with children born through surrogacy (conducted in collaboration with the Division of Gender, Sexuality and Health, Columbia University, New York); an investigation of the experiences of donor-conceived adolescents who are in contact with their donor siblings (conducted in collaboration with the New School for Social Research in New York); and studies of single mothers by choice and intra-family egg donation (conducted in collaboration with the London Women’s Clinic).


A Follow-Up Study of Adopted Children in Gay Father Families

Funded by: The ESRC

Susan Golombok (PI) and Michael Lamb (Co-investigator)

The aim of this longitudinal study is to investigate the psychological consequences for adopted children of being raised in gay father families, (i.e. to examine families in which children live, from birth or early infancy, with their gay fathers). The focus is on the quality of the father-child relationships and the psychological development of the child. At Phase 1, where differences were identified between the gay father families and the lesbian mother or heterosexual parent families, these indicated more positive parental wellbeing and parenting in gay father families. In all family types, the children showed higher rates of psychological disorder than did non-adopted children, as would be expected with adopted children. However, externalizing problems were greater among children in heterosexual than in gay and lesbian families. In Phase 2 is currently being conducted; the families are being followed up when the children reach early adolescence, the time at which identity issues become particularly salient for adopted children and when difficulties in parent-child relationships are most likely to arise. A major advantage of the longitudinal nature of the study is that it will enable the influence of both early and concurrent parent-child relationship quality on adolescent adjustment to be explored.


New Family Forms: Parent-child relationships and the psychological development of the child

Funded by: United States National Institute of Health (N.I.H.).

Susan Golombok (PI)

This is a longitudinal study of parenting and child development in surrogacy, egg donation and donor insemination families, (i.e. families in which the children lack a genetic or gestational link with one or both parents). To date, the families have been followed up when the children were aged 1, 2, 3, 7 and 10 years.


Redefining Families: Bioethics, assisted reproduction and emerging family forms

Funded by: Wellcome Trust

Susan Golombok (PI) and Co-investigators: Helen Statham, Tabitha Freeman, Vasanti Jadva, Zeynep Gürtin-Broadbent, and Martin Richards.

The Centre was granted a Wellcome Trust Enhancement Award in Biomedical Ethics to enable engagement between social scientists working at the interface of empirical research and biomedical ethics, and philosophers focusing on biomedical ethics in the field of assisted reproduction. In addition to interdisciplinary workshops and seminars, the Award funds two PhD Studentships. Our areas of particular focus are parental rights, autonomy, consent and the welfare of children in relation to three newly-emerging family forms resulting from assisted reproductive procedures: (i) gay father families, (ii) single mothers by choice, and (iii) donor siblings. The enhancement award is held by co-applicants within the Centre for Family Research, and supported by an international team of collaborators from a wide range of disciplines.


A Follow-up Study of the Experiences and Psychological Health of Surrogate Mothers and Their Families

Funded by: The ESRC

Vasanti Jadva (PI)

This study examines the long-term experiences and psychological wellbeing of surrogate mothers from the perspective of the surrogate and her family. It assesses the relationship between the surrogate and the commissioning parents and surrogate child, as well as the attitudes and feelings of members of the surrogate's family, specifically her partner and her own children. In addition, it examines the motivations of women who engage in repeated surrogacy arrangements. The findings will be relevant to families, clinicians and other professionals involved in surrogacy, and will inform policy and legislation nationally and internationally.


Parenting and the Psychological Development of Adopted Children Raised in Gay Father Families

Funded by: The ESRC

Susan Golombok (PI) and Michael Lamb (Co-investigator)

The aim of this study is to investigate the psychological consequences for adopted children of being raised in gay father families, (i.e. to examine families in which children live, from birth or early infancy, with their gay fathers). The focus is on the quality of the father-child relationships and the psychological development of the child.


The Motivations, Experiences and Future Expectations of Egg Donors

Funded by: The London Women's Clinic

Susan Golombok (PI) and Co-Investigators: Susanna Graham, Tabitha Freeman and Vasanti Jadva

This study explores the motivations, experiences and future expectations of women choosing to donate their eggs at the London Women's Clinic. This will be the first study in the UK to explore the experiences of 'altruistic' egg donors since the HFEA's removal of donor anonymity in 2005 and the change in the compensation system for donors that was introduced in 2011. With the UK currently experiencing greater demand for donor eggs than there is supply, an in-depth study into the motivations, experiences and future expectations of women choosing to donate their eggs will be invaluable in enabling the UK to improve its donor numbers. In-depth interviews will be held with egg donors to explore topics such as their reasons for donating their eggs, their experience of the egg donation recruitment and procedures, as well as their thoughts and feelings about donating their eggs, including thoughts and feelings about the individual or couple who will receive their eggs, the child who may be conceived as a result of their donation and possibilities for future information exchange. We are currently recruiting women to take part in this study.