Same-sex cohabitors report worse health: Study

Published on February 27, 2013 at 1:27 AM · No Comments

Same-sex cohabitors report worse health than people of the same socioeconomic status who are in heterosexual marriages, according to a new study, which may provide fuel for gay marriage proponents.

"Past research has shown that married people are generally healthier than unmarried people," said Hui Liu, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University. "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 cohabitors and married heterosexuals."

Titled, "Same-Sex Cohabitors and Health: The Role of Race-Ethnicity, Gender, and Socioeconomic Status," the study, which appears in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, compares the self-rated health of 1,659 same-sex cohabiting men and 1,634 same-sex cohabiting women with that of their different-sex married, different-sex cohabiting, unpartnered divorced, widowed, and never-married counterparts. The study of white, black, and Hispanic 18 to 65-year-olds used pooled, nationally representative data from the 1997 to 2009 National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS). NHIS respondents rated their overall health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. As part of their study, Liu and her co-authors, Corinne Reczek, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Cincinnati, and Dustin Brown, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, divided the respondents into two groups: those who reported excellent, very good, or good overall health and those who reported fair or poor overall health.

"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.

As for why same-sex cohabitors reported worse health than people of the same socioeconomic status in heterosexual marriages, Liu said there could be several reasons. "Research consistently suggests that 'out' sexual minorities experience heightened levels of stress and higher levels of discrimination, and these experiences may adversely affect the health of this population," Liu said. "It may also be that same-sex cohabitation does not provide the same psychosocial, socioeconomic, and institutional resources that come with legal marriage, factors that are theorized to be responsible for many of the health benefits of marriage."

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