Who Says I Do: The Changing Context of Marriage and Health and Quality of Life for LGBT Older Adults

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Abstract

Purpose of the Study:

Until recently, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults were excluded from full participation in civil marriage. The purpose of this study is to examine how legal marriage and relationship status are associated with health-promoting and at-risk factors, health, and quality of life of LGBT adults aged 50 and older.

Design and Methods:

We utilized weighted survey data from Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study (NHAS) participants who resided in states with legalized same-sex marriage in 2014 (N = 1,821). Multinomial logistic regression was conducted to examine differences by relationship status (legally married, unmarried partnered, single) in economic and social resources; LGBT contextual and identity factors; health; and quality of life.

Results:

We found 24% were legally married, and 26% unmarried partnered; one-half were single. Those legally married reported better quality of life and more economic and social resources than unmarried partnered; physical health indicators were similar between legally married and unmarried partnered. Those single reported poorer health and fewer resources than legally married and unmarried partnered. Among women, being legally married was associated with more LGBT microaggressions.

Implications:

LGBT older adults, and practitioners serving them, should become educated about how legal same-sex marriage interfaces with the context of LGBT older adults’ lives, and policies and protections related to age and sexual and gender identity. Longitudinal research is needed to understand factors contributing to decisions to marry, including short- and long-term economic, social, and health outcomes associated with legal marriage among LGBT older adults.

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