Danish study sheds light on gay mortality
In April, 2007 on my personal blog, 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.