Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

homophobia-study

(Photo: Agnieszka Lobodzinska/Shutterstock)

Homophobia Takes Years Off of Your Life

• February 19, 2014 • 2:00 AM

(Photo: Agnieszka Lobodzinska/Shutterstock)

That’s the conclusion of a new study that compares death rates with Americans’ attitudes toward gay rights.

There’s a price to be paid for homophobia, and it’s a steep one: Approximately two and one-half years off of your life.

That’s the conclusion of a provocative new research paper, which examines the social attitudes and death rates of a large, representative sample of Americans over two recent decades.

“We found evidence that anti-gay prejudice is associated with elevated mortality risk among heterosexuals, over and above multiple established risk factors,” writes a research team led by Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University. “In particular, there was a 2.5-year life expectancy difference between individuals with high vs. low levels of anti-gay prejudice.”

The cause, the researchers write in the American Journal of Public Health, may be homophobes’ higher stress levels. It appears all that intense discomfort takes a physical toll.

While they found no link between homophobia and cancer deaths, anti-gay bias “was specifically associated with cardiovascular-related causes of death among heterosexuals.”

Hatzenbuehler and colleagues Anna Bellatorre and Peter Muennig analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ attitudes and behaviors since 1972, and the National Death Index, which compiles information from death records. They focused specifically on attitudes toward homosexuality, as reported in GSS surveys from 1988 to 2002.

Homophobia was measured by noting responses to four specific questions, including “Do you think that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?” and “Should a man who admits that he is a homosexual be allowed to teach in a college or university, or not?”

The final sample featured 20,226 American heterosexuals. Nineteen percent of them, or 4,216, had died by the year 2008.

After adjusting for a variety of factors known to influence health and mortality, including age, race, marital status, income, and education, the researchers found anti-gay prejudice was “significantly associated with elevated mortality,” resulting in “a-life expectancy difference of approximately 2.5 years.”

While they found no link between homophobia and cancer deaths, anti-gay bias “was specifically associated with cardiovascular-related causes of death among heterosexuals,” they write.

The researchers have no definitive answer regarding the causes behind these earlier-than-expected deaths, but they do offer some ideas.

“Existing evidence suggests that, for highly prejudiced people, intergroup interactions are stressful,” they note. “Stress in turn is associated with less healthy behavior, such as overeating, smoking and heavy drinking. These health behaviors are therefore likely mechanisms linking anti-gay prejudice to mortality.”

Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues report they were “unable to determine whether it is anti-gay prejudice in particular, or prejudice more broadly, that is associated with mortality among majority-group members.”

“However,” they add, “our sensitivity analyses indicated that anti-gay prejudice increased mortality risk more strongly than racial prejudice.”

This suggests it’s a very good thing that Americans’ attitudes toward homosexuality have been moving in the direction of tolerance and acceptance in recent years. This research suggests such a shift may produce a major, unexpected side benefit: longer lives.

“These findings,” the researchers conclude, “contribute to a growing body of research suggesting that reducing prejudice may improve the health of both minority and majority populations.”

We can already envision the public-service campaign: Bigotry: It’s Bad for Your Health.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 21 • 4:00 PM

Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent Westernizing Surgery

The CBS news anchor and television personality’s story proves that cosmetic surgeries aren’t always vanity projects, even if they’re usually portrayed that way.


August 21 • 2:37 PM

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There’s heightened functional connectivity between the brain’s emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.


August 21 • 2:00 PM

Cracking Down on the Use of Restraints in Schools

Federal investigators found that children at two Virginia schools were being regularly pinned down or isolated and that their education was suffering as a result.


August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


August 20 • 8:40 AM

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.


August 20 • 8:00 AM

What the Cost of Raising a Child in America Tells Us About Income Inequality

You’ll spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in the United States, or about five times the annual median income.


August 20 • 6:00 AM

In Praise of ‘American Greed’

While it remains semi-hidden on CNBC and can’t claim the car chases of Cops, American Greed—now with eight seasons in the books—has proven itself a worthy endeavor.


August 20 • 4:00 AM

Of Course I Behaved Like a Jerk, I Was Just Watching ‘Jersey Shore’

Researchers find watching certain types of reality TV can make viewers more aggressive.


August 20 • 2:00 AM

Concluding Remarks About Housing Affordability and Supply Restricitions

Demand, not supply, plays the dominant role in explaining the housing affordability crisis. The wages are just too damn low.


August 19 • 4:00 PM

Can Lawmakers Only Make Laws That Corporations Allow?

There’s a telling detail in a recent story about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws.




August 19 • 12:00 PM

How ‘Contagion’ Became Contagious

Do ideas and emotions really spread like a virus?


Follow us


How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There's heightened functional connectivity between the brain's emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.