Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 28, 2022

Homophobic prejudices reduce lifespan

By SAMHITA ILANGO | March 13, 2014

As today’s world continues to have an increase in expected human lifespan, there may be something holding society back: homosexual prejudice. Recent studies have indicated that there exists a direct correlation between anti-gay stigma and shortened lifespans. The study suggests that the shortened lifespan can affect both those who hold the prejudice and those towards whom the prejudice is directed.

According to the United States Social Security Administration, it can be said that if a man reaches the age of 65 today, he can expect to live, on average until 84. For women, if they reach an age of 65, they can expect to live until about 86. However, life expectancy can be impeded if the life has a relation to an anti-gay stigmatized community. Anti-gay prejudice can be defined as homophobia that includes a spectrum of negative attitudes towards homosexuality or people identified as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexual or asexual (LGBTQIA).

Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Nebraska took the pre-existing correlation of shorter lifespans associated with racial prejudice and tested the idea on anti-gay prejudices. To do so, they used mortality data of heterosexuals from the General Social Survey (GSS)-National Death Index from 1988 to 2002. In order to measure homophobia, the GSS asked, “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?” Questions like this allowed the researchers to determine what percent of the heterosexual population was homophobic and when they died in comparison to the heterosexual population that was not homophobic.

After statistical analysis of the data, it was determined that anti-gay prejudice is strongly associated with mortality. There was an estimated 2.5-year decrease in life expectancy for those who expressed homophobia and those who did not.

The analysis suggests that the root of the problem centers around stress. For years, stress has been suggested to decrease lifespan because of what it biologically and psychologically does to the human population. That being said, stress can result from prejudice. In the past, research has indicated that cortisol, the stress hormone, is released when people interact with those they have a prejudice against.

This correlation does not only affect those who hold the prejudices. Research suggests that the correlation extends to the stigmatized population as well. A new study led by Mark Hatzenbuehler shows that people living in high-prejudice areas have a greater risk of dying prematurely than those who live in a more accepting society.

Hatenbuehler, a sociomedical sciences professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University questioned whether intolerant environments were associated with premature death among LGBTQIA people. His studies suggest that the lifespans of those individuals were shortened close to 12 years if they lived in communities with strong prejudice.

Hatzenbuehler suggests that the results from the study provide pertinent social science evidence that shows how sexual minorities living in communities with high levels of anti-gay prejudice have an increased risk of mortality, compared with those living in low-prejudice communities. Ultimately, the results from this study could be useful to citizens, legal scholars and policy makers.

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