The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Marriage, Health, and the Social Integration of LGB Older Adults

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 4:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 002A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Mark E. Williams, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Karen I. Fredriksen-Goldsen, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose: A large body of research has found multiple measures of health and well-being are positively associated with marital status.  Most studies have presumed that their samples are comprised of heterosexuals, with legal access to state recognized marriage and the opportunity to choose among relationship status options. Social integration theory has been used to explain why a more socially integrated relationship status, such as marriage, is associated with better health outcomes. Until recently, same-sex partners have not had access to state-recognized marriage, and they still do not in most jurisdictions, leaving unclear whether more socially integrated relationship statuses afford similar health benefits for LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) individuals as for heterosexuals.  This paper examines how identifying as married, partnered, or single is associated with multiple measures of health and life satisfaction of LGB older adults.  

Methods: The current study analyzed data from the Caring and Aging with Pride Project, a national survey of LGB adults 50 years of age and older.  Respondents were contacted through 11 health and service agencies for older adults.  2,173 LGB older adults provided responses about their health, partnership status, age, gender, race, education, income, and chronic illnesses.  Analyses included ordinal regression for general health, negative binomial regression for depressive symptoms, and linear regressions for perceived stress and life satisfaction.  Initial models that showed a significant effect of identifying as married were followed by further analysis to determine a potential interaction effect for respondents living in states that recognize same-sex marriage.

Results:  Identifying as partnered or married was associated with significantly better general health and less perceived stress than for single LGB older adults, but there was no significant difference between being partnered and married.  Married respondents reported significantly fewer depressive symptoms and greater life satisfaction than partnered respondents, and both reported significantly fewer depressive symptoms and greater life satisfaction than their single peers.  Living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage was associated with significantly more depressive symptoms, and there were no interaction effects between marital status and living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.

Conclusions and Implications:  More socially integrated relationship statuses are associated with better health, mental health, and life satisfaction for LGB older adults, though differences between married and partnered LGB respondents were not significant for general health or perceived stress.  The number of nations and U.S. states that recognize same-sex marriages has grown rapidly within the past 10 years, and the potential effects of this increased access to a legally sanctioned relationship status will require ongoing study as more LGB-identified people age into older adulthood, and as they live longer with the social benefits afforded to marriage.  Further research is needed to understand how identifying as married, participating in a legally recognized marriage, and living in a jurisdiction that acknowledges same-sex marriage may continue to impact the health of LGB older adults over time.