The mortality rate for men in same-sex marriages has dropped markedly since the 1990s, according to a Danish study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. However, same-sex married women have emerged as the group of women with the highest, and in recent years, even further increasing mortality.
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, with the advent of effective treatment of HIV/AIDS, mortality among men married to men has dropped to a level below that of unmarried or divorced men.
In contrast, the study also found that women married to women were at increased risk of mortality, most notably from suicide and cancer. In response to this, Morten Frisch, lead author of the study, says, “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.”
The study was carried out in Denmark between 1st January 1982 and 30th September 2011 for a total of 122.5 million person-years. 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. Taking socioeconomic confounders available since 1982 into account, the authors were able to address how living arrangements were linked with overall and cause-specific mortality.
Being married or cohabiting with a member of the opposite sex was associated with consistently lower mortality than all other marital status or cohabitation categories. Interestingly, though, by combining data about marital and cohabitation status, the study revealed a two-fold or higher mortality in married persons not living with their spouse, a finding that has not been reported before.
Morten Frisch says, “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.”