Stress and resilience among three generations of LGB people showed a surprising result
A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law finds younger LGBQ adults experience greater psychological distress and suicidal behavior than older LGBQ people. This was not an outcome that researchers expected.
The Study examined a representative sample of LGBQ people in the United States from three age groups—young (18-25), middle (34-41), and older (52-59)—to assess how stress, identity, and connectedness with the LGBT community differed among the three generations. Researchers expected that younger LGBQ people would fare better in terms of stress and mental health outcomes than their older peers. It was thought the older generation, who came of age in a more hostile social and legal environment for LGBT people, would have had more stress.
Surprisingly the results showed that young LGBQ people experienced the highest levels of everyday discrimination, psychological distress, and internalized homophobia. For example, 30% of young LGBQ adults reported at least one suicide attempt in their lifetimes, compared to 24% of the middle cohort and 21% of the older cohort.
Young LGBQ people also reported the highest levels of connection to the LGBT community and were more likely to say their sexual identity is central to who they are, compared to their older peers.
“The findings remind us that LGBT equality remains elusive. The persistence of cultural ideologies, such as homophobia and heterosexism, continue to result in rejection and violence against sexual minorities in the United States,” said lead author Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute. “It is vital that we recognize threats to the health and well-being of sexual minority people across all ages.”
The study findings showed that approximately 10% of young LGBQ adults identified as gender nonbinary. This compared with 3.5% of LGBQ adults in both the middle and older cohorts. The young LGBQ adults were more likely to be people of color. Among Latino young people 26% identified as LGBQ. This is compared to only 17% of the middle cohort and 11% of the oldest generation.
Each cohort reached sexual identity milestones—identifying as LGBQ, the first same-sex sexual experience, and coming out—earlier than the previous one. It was found that on average, young LGBQ people identified as LGBQ at age 14, compared to age 16 for the middle cohort and age 18 for the oldest.
Younger LGBQ adults also showed more extreme experiences of victimization in a shorter span of time than the middle and older cohorts. More than one-third (37%) of young LGBQ adults experienced being hit, beaten, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted. And almost half (46%) had someone threaten them with violence.
Nearly three out of four young LGBQ adults (72%) were verbally insulted or abused. They had higher levels of psychological distress compared to the two older cohorts. On the Kessler scale score they had an average of 10.2. The scale is used frequently in clinical measure of distress. Older LGBQ adults scored 7.6 for the middle cohort and 5.4 for the oldest on the Kessler scale.
The Generations Study examines the health and well-being of cisgender and nonbinary LGBQ people. Transgender people, regardless of their sexual orientation, were included in the TransPop Study, which examines the demographics, health, and lived experiences of the first national probability sample of transgender individuals in the U.S.
The report, “Minority stress, distress, and suicide attempts in three cohorts of sexual minority adults: A U.S. probability sample,” appears in Plos One and is co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D., Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., Phillip L. Hammack, Ph.D., David M. Frost, Ph.D., and Bianca D.M. Wilson, Ph.D.
The study was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a think tank on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research with real-world relevance.