Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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

October 31 • 2:00 PM

India’s Struggle to Get Reliable Power to Hundreds of Millions of People

India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known as a “big thinker” when it comes to energy. But in his country’s case, could thinking big be a huge mistake?


October 31 • 12:00 PM

In the Picture: SNAP Food Benefits, Birthday Cake, and Walmart

In every issue, we fix our gaze on an everyday photograph and chase down facts about details in the frame.


October 31 • 10:15 AM

Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.


October 31 • 8:00 AM

Who Wants a Cute Congressman?

You probably do—even if you won’t admit it. In politics, looks aren’t everything, but they’re definitely something.


October 31 • 7:00 AM

Why Scientists Make Promises They Can’t Keep

A research proposal that is totally upfront about the uncertainty of the scientific process and its potential benefits might never pass governmental muster.


October 31 • 6:12 AM

The Psychology of a Horror Movie Fan

Scientists have tried to figure out the appeal of axe murderers and creepy dolls, but it mostly remains a spooky mystery.


October 31 • 4:00 AM

The Power of Third Person Plural on Support for Public Policies

Researchers find citizens react differently to policy proposals when they’re framed as impacting “people,” as opposed to “you.”


October 30 • 4:00 PM

I Should Have Told My High School Students About My Struggle With Drinking

As a teacher, my students confided in me about many harrowing aspects of their lives. I never crossed the line and shared my biggest problem with them—but now I wish I had.


October 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



Follow us


Levels of Depression Could Be Evaluated Through Measurements of Acoustic Speech

Engineers find tell-tale signs in speech patterns of the depressed.

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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