Disparities in Subjective Well-being by Sexual Orientation: Comparing Cohorts from pairfam’s (2008-09) and FReDA’s (2021) Baseline Waves
Keywords:Sexual minorities, Structural stigma, Health inequalities, Social change
Significant expansion of legal rights and recognition of sexual minority populations triggered expectations that structural stigma, sexual minority stress and, consequently, previously well-documented disadvantages in health and well-being may decline over time. The empirical evidence on this issue is, however, still sparse and inconclusive. We contribute to this research by comparing baseline data from the German Family Panel (pairfam; 2008-09) and the German Family Demography Panel Study (FReDA; 2021). These data allow us to assess disparities in subjective well-being by sexual orientation and potential changes therein after legalisation of same-sex marriage in Germany in two adult cohorts interviewed more than a decade apart. We focus on two specific outcomes, namely life satisfaction and self-rated health. Two main findings emerged from our analysis: First, minority sexual orientation is associated with significantly lower subjective well-being, specifically lower life satisfaction. Second, there are no statistically significant changes in the sexual orientation-health nexus between cohorts. Our study, thus, neither lends support to “optimistic” expectations regarding the contribution of (further) reductions in institutional discrimination and structural stigma to (further) reductions in remaining disadvantages, nor does it lend support to “pessimistic” expectations suggesting that younger cohorts of sexual minority adults may experience an even larger gap in health and well-being than previous cohorts. We propose that the stability of sexual minorities’ disadvantages in subjective well-being during the first two decades of the 21st century in Germany be interpreted as the result of two opposing forces working in parallel: Reduced institutional discrimination and increased exposure to continued stigma. The legal recognition of same-sex relationships appears to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for the acceptance of sexual minorities. Remaining disparities by sexual orientation will thus not simply disappear when institutional discrimination of sexual minorities is eliminated. Currently, we may therefore find ourselves in a “transitory period” whose further evolution is difficult to predict. FReDA – with its evolving longitudinal dimension and the inclusion of self-reported measures of respondents’ sexual orientation – will constitute a powerful resource for future investigations of inequalities in yet understudied but increasingly visible sexual minority populations.
* This article belongs to a special issue on “Family Research and Demographic Analysis – New Insights from the German Family Demography Panel Study (FReDA)”.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Karsten Hank, Franz J. Neyer, Carolin Thönnissen
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