New Danish study reviews mortality among married gays

In April, 2007, I posted a rebuttal to Paul and Kirk Cameron’s claims that gays die 20-plus years sooner than straights. That post was the first of a nine-part series, Only the Gay Die Young? The links will show up if you click here, here and here. Also, I brought them all together in an article with additional commentary in an article presented at a research summit I conducted in 2007.

Participating in that exchange was Morten Frisch, Danish epidemiologist. I initially corresponded with Dr. Frisch concerning his 2006 article on environmental influences in homosexual versus heterosexual marriage decisions. When Paul and Kirk Cameron produced their mortality study at the Eastern Psychological Association, I contacted Dr. Frisch for comment. Dr. Frisch dismissed the Camerons’ methods saying,

Cameron and Cameron’s report on “life expectancy” in homosexuals vs heterosexuals is severely methodologically flawed

It is no wonder why this pseudo-scientific report claiming a drastically shorter life expectancy in homosexuals compared with heterosexuals has been published on the internet without preceding scientific peer-review (http://www.earnedmedia.org/frireport.htm). The authors should know, and as PhDs they presumably do, that this report has little to do with science. It is hard to escape the idea that non-scientific motifs have driven the authors to make this report public. The methodological flaws are of such a grave nature that no decent peer-reviewed scientific journal should let it pass for publication

In this case, Dr. Frisch did more than critique the Camerons. He, along with colleague Henrik Brønnum-Hansen, conducted a study using the data from Denmark regarding married gays and straights. The study will be published in the January, 2009 edition of the American Journal of Public Health, but is being released today via the journal’s website. Dr. Frisch was kind enough to forward a copy which I summarize here.

Frisch and Brønnum-Hansen found that Danish men marrying soon after the Danish same-sex marriage law was enacted had markedly higher death rates than men in the general Danish population. They speculate that these men were ill, ordinarily with AIDS or AIDS related illnesses, but also from other life-threatening diseases, and wanted to marry to establish rights of survivorship or other benefits for a surviving spouse. However, the mortality for homosexual men marrying after 1996 is virtually the same as for heterosexual men in Denmark. Thus, since HIV/AIDS has been more successfully managed, the mortality rates have declined dramatically.

During the height of the AIDS crisis, life expectancies were understandably depressed. This study indicates that mortality has improved substantially.

In the article, Frisch and Brønnum-Hansen directly address the methods of the Camerons.

Flawed Claims of Major Excess Mortality

Authors from the Family Research Institute, a US-based institution fighting to ‘‘restore a world . . . where homosexuality is not taught and accepted, but instead is discouraged and rejected at every level, ’’have produced a series of reports in which they claim homosexuality is incompatible with full health and as dangerous to public health as drug abuse, prostitution, and smoking. In a recent

report, the authors obtained data from Statistics Denmark and Statistics Norway and compared the average age at death among men and women who had ever been in a same-sex marriage with the average age at death among people who had ever been heterosexually married.

Because the age distribution among persons in same-sex marriages was considerably younger than that of people who had ever been heterosexually married, the average age at death among those who actually died during the observation period was, not surprisingly, considerably younger in the population of same-sex married persons. The Family Research Institute presented the lower mean age at death (by 22–25 years) for persons in same-sex versus heterosexual marriages as evidence that persons who married heterosexually ‘‘outlived gays and lesbians by more than 20 years on average.’’ Elementary textbooks in epidemiology warn against such undue comparisons between group averages because they lead to seemingly common-sense yet seriously flawed conclusions.

I am still reviewing the details and will add more as I complete my review. For now, I will say that I appreciate Dr. Frisch’s work and efforts to gain an objective look at this controversial topic.

The study reference is: Frisch, M. & Brønnum-Hansen, H. (2009). Mortality Among Men and Women in Same-Sex Marriage: A National Cohort Study of 8333 Danes. American Journal of Public Health 99,(1), available online at http://www.ajph.org/first_look.shtml.

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  • Marty

    I’ll expect them to have even longer lives than heterosexual men, simply because they aren’t living with women who, demanding species that they are, tend to drive a man to an early grave.

    ;)

  • David Blakeslee

    This is big news…

    And a credit to this site!

    It is a long walk for the Christian from the science we prefer to the science that is.

    Thanks for starting that walk many years ago, Warren.

  • Andrew

    Doc, you and I agree about very little, I suspect, but we both seem to dislike bogus science. Kudo’s to you for shining a light where it needs to be shown, even though there was a tempting opportunity to score idealogical points. It enhances your reputation. I still disagree with you, but I certainly have some respect for you.

  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    Thanks for alerting us to this study. Many people within the Christian community read & believe the things the Camerons wrtie. It is important that there be rebuttals from trusted sources. Yes, I can refer folks to Jim Burroway’s work @ Box Turtle Bulletin. But, this is obviously a gay-activist site. I respect & trust Jim, but I’m not sure folks within the Christian community will. It is important that Christians stand up and say “We will not put up with lies, insults, or bogus ‘science!’”

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter O

    Isn’t the conclusion of the researchers that, yes, homosexual men and women who have entered a same-sex union DO have shorter life-spans than their equivalent heterosexual comparisons, but the difference in life-spans is not nearly as much as was over-stated by Cameron?

    Or am I reading the abstract incorrectly (and I don’t have access to the full paper, otherwise I could cast my hard sums head over it)?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Here is the abstract:

    Objectives. We studied overall mortality in a demographically defined, complete cohort of gay men and lesbians to address recent claims of markedly shorter life spans among homosexual persons.

    Methods. We calculated standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) starting 1 year after the date of same-sex marriage for 4914 men and 3419 women in Denmark who married a same-sex partner between 1989 and 2004.

    Results. Mortality was markedly increased in the first decade after same-sex marriage for men who married between 1989 and 1995 (SMR=2.25; 95% confidence interval [CI]=2.01, 2.50), but much less so for men who married after 1995, when efficient HIV/AIDS therapies were available (SMR=1.33; 95% CI=1.04, 1.68). For women who married their same-sex partner between 1989 and 2004, mortality was 34% higher than was mortality in the general female population (SMR=1.34; 95% CI=1.09, 1.63). For women, and for men marrying after 1995, the significant excess mortality was limited to the period 1 to 3 years after the marriage.

    Conclusions. Despite recent marked reduction in mortality among gay men, Danish men and women in same-sex marriages still have mortality rates that exceed those of the general population. The excess mortality is restricted to the first few years after a marriage, presumably reflecting preexisting illness at the time of marriage. Although further study is needed, the claims of drastically increased overall mortality in gay men and lesbians appear unjustified.

    There is a slight difference but as Frisch says it is comparable to straight men. Frisch is unwilling to specify years because the data are inadequate to do so. It is speculation to say what the small difference is between gays and straights but may relate to AIDS/HIV, or other known differences between gays and straights (depression, other mood disorders).

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter O

    OK, those numbers help to clarify the situation. I’d like to see Frisch make more than just an assertion that the increased rate for those after union is to do with those entering unions in ill-health, but this seems to be the first bit of hard evidence that shows that Cameron was way overstating the position (to put it mildly).

  • Michael Bussee

    They speculate that these men were ill, ordinarily with AIDS or AIDS related illnesses, but also from other life-threatening diseases, and wanted to marry to establish rights of survivorship or other benefits for a surviving spouse. However, the mortality for homosexual men marrying after 1996 is virtually the same as for heterosexual men in Denmark. Thus, since HIV/AIDS has been more successfully managed, the mortality rates have declined dramatically.

    Duh and No, duh.

    These things only make sense! But, see how easy it is for those who presume that gays have an “illness”, “sin” or “disorder” (and who, according to Cameron, live “parasitic lives”) to then twist statistics to “prove” that they are right? See how simple it really is? Gay men love each other. They want to get married. They want to leave their inheritance to their spouse. They live longer if they get good medical care. No brainer.

  • Evan

    Married gays are not more likely to have shorter lifespans than married straights. The next step for the researchers would be to check if the same holds for unmarried gays and straights. There could be different types of people, those who get married and those who don’t and they might have different takes on behaviours and risks.

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  • GDioli

    Dr. Throckmorton – Why do you suppose this study made no headlines? Very few gay bloggers or news sources reported it either.

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  • Coolata

    We are talking about a difference of 33% for men and 34% for women in comparison to the general population, with the cases of women not being altered by the AIDS crises. That is not a small difference. Certainly not the “virtially the same” concept that you suggested Warren.

    I also find the idea of “mood” and “depression” as a factor for the difference laughable! Really? You present yourself as a credentialled comentator (and a Christian one at that), and I don’t either, but how am I supposed to take you seriously on this matter when your empathy for the gay cause has left you markedly biased?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Coolata – The word depressed can also mean lowered. I think you misread the post. I did not attribute anything to depression as a mood disorder..

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