Research will help answer questions about health disparities
The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, along with Bowling Green State University, has been selected to conduct a first-of-its-kind national, five-year study of health in same-gender couples.
The National Couples’ Health and Time Study is the first population-representative study ever to focus on couples of the same gender in the United States. Data will also be collected from couples of different genders. The researchers plan to put extra emphasis on recruiting racial and ethnic minorities.
Ohio State and BGSU received $2.3 million from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to conduct the study.
Claire Kamp Dush, associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State, leads the research.
Kamp Dush noted that the number of married or cohabiting same-gender couples in the United States increased by 45 percent between 2008 and 2014.
“Families headed by sexual and gender minorities are a growing part of our population and we know that their health lags behind other Americans,” she said. “But we have very little data that could help explain why those disparities exist. This study will help answer those questions.”
The team will recruit 2,690 adults who are cohabiting or married, along with their partners.
Kamp Dush said the research should help answer questions about health in these minority couples. One important source of data will come from time diaries. Participants will use their smartphones to record what they are doing and feeling throughout one weekday and one weekend day.
The findings should shed light on how the stress of discrimination associated with being gay or a racial minority – or both – may affect the health and well-being of couples.
“If you report that you’re feeling stress related to discrimination or stigma, does your partner also feel more stressed from talking to you about it? Or could partners help each other relieve their stress?” Kamp Dush said.
“A good relationship may help buffer some of the negative health effects of the stress you feel from homophobia or racism.”
All couples will also complete a survey examining a wide range of health and well-being issues, including measures of physical function, sleep, depression, alcohol use, anxiety, sexual function and social support. Participants will report on their family support, relationship quality, parenting issues, and experiences with racism and homophobia.
The study examines community-level factors, as well, such as whether couples live in a state that has employment protections for same-gender couples. That could help answer questions about whether couples feel more stress if they live in states or areas that have fewer protections.
Kamp Dush said the wide range of questions will provide data never before available to researchers.
“Many large-scale population surveys do not include detailed measures of family functioning, or do not have data from a sufficient number of same-gender couples. We are asking questions about a lot of other issues that may be influencing health outcomes,” she said.
Team member Wendy Manning, distinguished professor of sociology and Director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at BGSU, said the study is necessary because the changes in American families aren’t reflected in research done to date.
“Same-sex couples have been left out of much social science research on American family life. This study will rectify this omission and fill an important gap in our understanding of how all families function,” Manning said.
Ohio State’s Institute for Population Research also supports the research. John Casterline, director of the institute, said the study will be a boon for researchers and policymakers.
“These data will be immensely useful for informing better policy and programs for families of all types,” Casterline said.
Kamp Dush said the team will spend four years collecting the data. The data will eventually become available to researchers around the world for their studies.
Additional co-investigators on the project from Ohio State are JaNelle Ricks, assistant professor of public health; and Corinne Reczek and Hui Zheng, both associate professors of sociology.