A new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA finds older LGBTQ+ Americans were affected more negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic than their straight peers.
Using data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, the report examined the demographics, health, and economic experiences of LGBTQ+ adults aged 50 and older during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study was led by Research Data Analyst Lauren J.A. Bouton, with Amanda M. Brush and Ilan H. Meyer, Distinguished Senior Scholar of Public Policy.
Among the findings:
- Almost all LGBTQ+ people over 50 received the COVID-19 vaccine, a higher percentage than their straight peers.
- More people aged 50–64 identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender than those 65 years of age and older.
- More men than women over 50 identified as LGBTQ+, the opposite of younger age groups, where women predominate.
- Similar proportions among all LGBTQ+ ethnic groups reported relying on credit cards or loans and savings or retirement to supplement their incomes during the pandemic.
- More White LGBTQ+ people reported using the same income sources they used before the pandemic to meet their spending needs.
- Reported anxiety and depression numbers during the pandemic were higher among LGBTQ+ individuals than their straight counterparts.
LGBTQ Nation spoke with the study’s lead author to find out what the data reveals and how it can be used to improve the quality of life for a vulnerable population.
LGBTQ NATION: What’s your top-line takeaway from the report?
LAUREN J.A. BOUTON: LGBTQ+ older people, especially older LGBTQ+ people of color, are particularly vulnerable to financial insecurity (food insecurity and housing instability) and health issues such as anxiety and depression symptoms. The vulnerability is compounded by the fact that they don’t have the support many non-LGBTQ+ people have in their lives. For example, they are more likely to live alone, not have children or other supportive family members, and lack LGBTQ+-affirming health care and other services for older people.
LGBTQ NATION: The report states: “Precarity is not new for LGBTQ+ older adults, and COVID-19 may be viewed as part of a continuum of disruptive events that impact the aging experiences of LGBT older adults.” What are some of the other disruptive events that impact aging experiences for older LGBTQ+ adults?
LB: LGBTQ+ older people have had a lifetime of discrimination and stressful events associated with their sexual orientation and gender identity, which research attributes to adverse outcomes. The pandemic is another mechanism by which inequality is perpetuated against the most vulnerable in our society, such as LGBTQ+ older people. Think about how a person with a low income, few resources, and a lack of supportive people around them were facing the pandemic compared with someone who has resources.
LGBTQ NATION: While vaccination rates were higher among LGBTQ+ older adults vs. their straight counterparts, so were mental health issues. Is that a paradox like it sounds? Shouldn’t a vaccination provide peace of mind in addition to protection from the virus?
LB: We don’t know from this report whether vaccination rates and mental health issues are connected. The mental health measures we used were general depression and anxiety symptoms; they did not specifically refer to the pandemic. What we do know is that LGBTQ+ people of all ages experience higher rates of mental health issues, and that was true even before the pandemic. But LGBTQ+ older people also seek mental health treatments, such as prescriptions and therapy, at higher rates, as well. It is plausible that a higher proportion of people getting vaccinated is related to this behavior of being proactive about seeking medical care.
LGBTQ NATION: The report finds a higher percentage of LGBTQ+ older adults reported anxiety and depression symptoms than straight older folks. Is that partly a greater willingness among LGBTQ+ people to speak candidly about mental health than their straight counterparts have? In other words, could you generalize that LGBTQ+ people are more in touch with their feelings?
LB: Minority stress research has demonstrated that people who are discriminated against systemically or individually experience more stress and that stress is related to higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms, among other health issues. More LGBTQ+ than straight/cisgender people access mental health treatments, which may mean they are more open and honest about their mental health experiences, but we did not test this hypothesis and cannot say to what extent that may be a part of the explanation of the finding about depression and anxiety symptoms.
LGBTQ NATION: The report used the first U.S. Census Bureau data that included questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. How would you describe the impact that had on your study and will have on future LGBTQ+ research?
LB: We applaud the U.S. Census Bureau for including questions that allow us to identify LGBTQ+ people in the dataset. The Household Pulse Survey allows us to make stronger assessments about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people across the nation. The study makes us better able to understand their experiences with food and housing insecurity and we are able to compare these findings to what we’ve already seen in smaller studies. We are hopeful that the Census will continue to add these questions to other surveys such as the American Community Survey, Current Population Survey, and the Decennial Census so we may continue to make progress in understanding the lives and needs of LGBTQ+ people.