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Married Gay Men Are Now Living Longer Than Unmarried or Divorced Men, Danish Study

Update Date: Mar 12, 2013 03:16 PM EDT

The death rate for men in same-sex marriages has dropped significantly since the 1990s, according to Danish researchers.  In contrast, the mortality rate for women in same-sex marriages, the group with the highest mortality rate among women, has increased even further in recent years.

 The latest findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, reveals that while mortality was significantly higher among people in same-sex marriages for the first several years after Denmark implemented the world's first national law on registered same sex partnerships in 1989, since the advent of effect HIV/AIDS treatment in 1996, mortality among gay married men has dropped to a level below that of unmarried or divorced men.

On the other hand, women in same-sex marriages aren't as lucky as their male counterparts.  According to the study, married lesbians were at increased risk of mortality, most notably from suicide and cancer.

"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," lead author Morten Frisch of Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, and Aalborg University, Aalborg said in a statement.

Frisch and Jacob Simonsen of Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, used Denmark's Civil Registration System to follow 6.5 million adults who lived in Denmark for any period between January 1982 and September 2011 for a total of 122.5 million person-years.

Researchers said no previous study has explored overall and cause-specific mortality in an entire country using complete day-by-day information about actual living arrangement over this time period.

By accounting for socioeconomic factors available since 1982, researchers were able to address how living arrangements were linked with overall and cause-specific mortality.

Researchers found that married straight people or people living with a member of the opposite sex were consistently associated with lower mortality than all other marital status or cohabitation categories.

Interestingly, researchers found that married people not living with their spouse had a two-fold or higher mortality than married people living with their spouse. Researchers said the finding was interesting because it has never been reported before.

"It is a novel observation that being married was not always protective. Among persons living alone and persons living in same-sex cohabitation, those who were married to a member of the opposite sex had noticeably higher mortality than unmarried and same-sex married persons," Frisch said. "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."

While marriage has long been associated with reduced mortality, researchers said that current study is important because noticeable changes have occurred in the martial status distribution of Western populations over the past decades.  There have been gradual declines in people married to members of the opposite sex and widowed people.  However, there have been increases in proportions of unmarried and divorced people. There are also less people living with a member of the opposite sex and more single people.

According to the findings, people married to a member of the opposite sex had a lower overall mortality rate compared to unmarried, divorced, widowed, or same-sex married people.  People cohabitating with a member of the opposite sex had a lower overall mortality rate compared to people who lived alone, with parents, in multi-adult households, or in same-sex cohabitation.

The study found that the most significant changes in mortality were seen among same-sex married people..  The study found that between 2000 and 2011, same sex married Danish women emerged as a group with particularly increased mortality. However, same-sex married Danish men now have mortality rates that are lower than those of unmarried or divorced men.

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