Does Sexual Orientation Complicate the Relationship Between Marital Status and Gender With Self-rated Health and Cardiovascular Disease?

A substantial body of work has demonstrated the importance of marital status for health, yet the vast majority of this work has studied heterosexual marriages and relationships. To understand the role of marital status in shaping health among heterosexual, lesbian, gay, and bisexual men and women, we examine data from a probability-based sample of adults living in 40 U.S. states for selected years between 2011-2015. We test two physical health outcomes-poor-to-fair self-rated health and cardiovascular disease-and present predicted probabilities and pairwise comparisons from logistic regression models before and after adjustment for demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and depression. Overall, findings reveal some important similarities and differences in the relationships between marital status and health by sexual orientation and gender. First, the health benefits of marriage extend to sexual minority adults, relative to adults who are either formerly or never married.

Among heterosexual adults, adjusted models also highlight the healthy status of never-married adults. Second, the health benefits associated with intimate relationships appear less dependent on legal marriage among sexual minorities than among heterosexual adults. Third, we document a persistent health disadvantage for bisexual adults compared with heterosexual adults, particularly among women who are formerly married, indicating some elevated health vulnerability among selected sexual minority women. Fourth, associations between sexual orientation and health are more similar across marital status groups for men than women. Altogether, these findings add much needed nuance to our understanding of the association between marital status and health in an era of increasing diversity in adult relationships.