A new study from Denmark has found that the mortality rates for men in same-sex marriages have dropped dramatically, although this is not the case with women in same-sex marriages.
Denmark implemented the world’s first national law on registered same-sex partnerships in 1989.
Mortality was markedly elevated among people in same-sex marriages for the first several years after this, but since 1996 mortality among men married to men has actually dropped to a level below that of unmarried or divorced men.
As HIV/AIDS hit gay men hardest in Europe, the study’s authors attribute this chnage at least in part to the advent of effective treatment of HIV/AIDS.
In essence, the results show that men in same-sex marriages are likely to live longer than men who are single or divorced.
In contrast, the study found that women married to women were at increased risk of mortality, most notably from suicide and cancer.
They have emerged as the group of women with the highest, and in recent years, even further increasing mortality.
Morten Frisch, lead author of the study, commented: “Lesbians may constitute a largely unnoticed high-risk population for suicide and breast cancer, so our findings call for efforts to identify the underlying factors responsible and ensure access to basic health care in this population.”
Marriage has long been known to be associated with reduced mortality, but noticeable changes have occurred in the marital status of Western populations over the past decades.
Gradual declines have been seen in proportions of people married to members of the opposite sex, and widowed people; with corresponding increases in proportions of unmarried and divorced people.
The study also noted decreasing proportions of people living (cohabiting) with a member of the opposite sex and corresponding increases in single people.
In light of these changes, Frisch said that, “From a public health viewpoint it is important to try to identify those underlying factors and mechanisms that explain the lower mortality among married and cohabiting persons.”
The authors used Denmark’s Civil Registration System to follow 6.5 million adults who resided in Denmark between 1 January 1982 and 30 September 2011. No prior study has explored overall and cause-specific mortality in an entire country using complete day-by-day information about actual living arrangements over this time frame.
The study has been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.