Key Life Events: Experiences of LGBTQ Older Adults

Do you ever feel like LGBTQ people all get lumped together?

Not everyone’s life experiences are the same. An important thing we try to accomplish with Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study is to break down that generic “LGBT community” and look at differences between communities of LGBTQ older adults. On our Publications page, you’ll see research on health and wellness in transgender older adults, bisexual older adults, HIV-positive older adults, African American and Hispanic LGBTQ older adults, and Hispanic lesbian and bisexual older women, among many others.

We recently published a paper about key events in the lives of LGBTQ older adults, taking a look at important transitions like coming out, getting married, and retiring—not necessarily in that order. Our statistical analysis of these life events came up with four main groups of LGBTQ older adults, with different experiences and different health needs.

Which life trajectories are most common among LGBTQ older adults?

  • Retired Survivors (32% of Aging with Pride participants): The oldest group, with high rates of poverty and military service and low rates of job-related discrimination and current partnership. More than a third of Retired Survivors have experienced the death of a partner.
  • Midlife Bloomers (15% of participants): The second-oldest group came out in their 40s, with 80% of them having been in opposite-sex marriages first. They have high rates of income and education, and many of them are women, bisexual, and/or transgender. About half currently have partners; three-quarters have children. This group has the highest rates of antidiscrimination activism and religious/spiritual involvement.
  • Beleaguered At-Risk (21% of participants): One of the two youngest groups and the most likely to be non-White, this group has very high rates of job-related discrimination and a low likelihood of having a current partner. This group reports poorer social and environmental quality of life than the others, and like the Retired Survivors, more than a third have experienced the death of a partner.
  • Visibly Resourced (32% of participants): Similar in age to the Beleaguered At-Risk group, this group is characterized by high income and education and low rates of job-related discrimination. Visibly Resourced older adults are more likely than the other three groups to be out about their LGBTQ identity, to have a current partner, and to enter into same-sex marriage.

What can we tell about LGBTQ health from this breakdown?

Well, the Visibly Resourced group has the best health and well-being. Specifically, this group has a lower risk of poor general health, lower rates of psychological distress, lower levels of perceived stress, fewer chronic conditions, less physical and cognitive impairment, and a lower risk of disability than the other groups.

The contrast between the Visibly Resourced group and the Beleaguered At-Risk group is pretty staggering even though they are equally young and equally out; one is healthy and doing well socially and economically, while the other is at risk. The health and well-being of the Beleaguered At-Risk group (the youngest group) is similar to the oldest group, the Retired Survivors. The fact that the Beleaguered At-Risk group is not doing well is highly associated with the discrimination they’ve endured.

The Midlife Bloomers group is similar in health and well-being to the Retired Survivors group, despite being slightly younger. Many Midlife Bloomers are bisexual and/or transgender, both groups that are known to experience health disparities; living in the closet is also associated with poor mental health. But Midlife Bloomers also have high income and education and are spiritually active, all associated with better health and well-being. These factors tend to balance each other out in their lives.

As our study progresses, we hope to find out more about these disparities and what can be done to help. We are also investigating the strengths across these groups to more fully understand the predictors of good health and well-being across groups of LGBT older adults.

To learn about these findings and Aging with Pride, go to our Publications page and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I., Bryan, A. E. B., Jen, S., Goldsen, J., Kim, H.-J., & Muraco, A. (2017). The unfolding of LGBT lives: Key events associated with health and well-being in later life. The Gerontologist 57(S1), S15-S29. doi:10.1093/geront/gnw185

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