February 27, 2013
Same-Sex Partners Less Healthy Than Heterosexual Couples
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
As society begins its slow, tectonic shift towards mainstream acceptance of same-sex marriage, researchers are looking to see what kind of impacts the change will have on different levels of society.A new study from Rice University has found that same-sex couples who live together report lower levels of health than those in heterosexual marriages, when adjusting for socio-economic status.
"Past research has shown that married people are generally healthier than unmarried people," said the study´s lead author Hui Liu, an assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University (MSU). "Although our study did not specifically test the health consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage, it's very plausible that legalization of gay marriage would reduce health disparities between same-sex cohabiters and married heterosexuals."
"This study is one of the first to show that the mental and physical health disadvantages of unmarried couples living together may extend to same-sex couples,” added co-author Justin Denney, a professor of sociology at Rice.
In the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers culled data from the 1997 to 2009 National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS), which included white, black, and Hispanic 18- to 65-year-olds. The survey respondents rated their overall health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor.
From this pool of data, the team compared the responses of over 1,600 same-sex cohabiting men and over 1,600 same-sex cohabiting women with the reports from different-sex married, different-sex cohabiting, un-partnered divorced, widowed, and never-married individuals.
"When we controlled for socioeconomic status, the odds of reporting poor or fair health were about 61 percent higher for same-sex cohabiting men than for men in heterosexual marriages and the odds of reporting poor or fair health were about 46 percent higher for same-sex cohabiting women than for women in heterosexual marriages," Liu said.
She suggested that the heightened levels of stress and discrimination experienced by these couples may explain the discrepancy.
"Our research shows that cohabitating opposite-sex couples have fewer resources than married opposite-sex couples and are less likely to share the resources that they do have (such as health insurance and bank accounts) that can be leveraged toward better health," Denney added. "However, the study shows that cohabitating same-sex couples are socio-economically advantaged and similar to married opposite-sex couples in their tendencies to share resources within a relationship that can positively impact health."
Co-author Bridget Gorman, a professor of sociology at Rice, said that previous studies have shown that being a racial minority can negatively impact health, and it is reasonable to assume that some of the sociological reasons for this could extend to sexual minorities.
Liu noted some of the study´s findings suggest race could play a role in the self-reported health of cohabitating same-sex couples.
"After we controlled for socioeconomic status, black women in same-sex cohabiting relationships reported worse health than black women of any other non-married union status, while white women in same-sex cohabiting relationships actually reported better health than both white women in different-sex cohabiting relationships and divorced white women," said Liu.
She added that black women in same-sex cohabiting relationships may experience severe social discrimination and homophobia in the community, negatively impacting their health outlook.