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Ohio State to lead national health study of same-gender couples

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development granted Ohio State and Bowling Green State universities $2.3 million to conduct a five-year health study of same-gender couples. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Managing Editor for Design

Ohio State researchers will be leading the first study ever to focus on the health of same-gender couples in the United States.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development granted Ohio State and Bowling Green State universities $2.3 million to conduct this five-year population-representative study.

“The National Couples’ Health and Time Study mainly focuses on same-gender couples, while also collecting data on couples of different genders and couples of racial and ethnic minorities to help researchers answer intersectional questions,” said Claire Kamp Dush, associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State and lead researcher.

Researchers know that individuals with minority status, such as racial minority couples or same-gender couples, tend to have more health disparities, Kamp Dush said. However, researchers are lacking the data needed to understand what causes minority couples to have worse health problems than majority couples, namely different-gender, white couples.

Kamp Dush said the number of married or cohabiting same-gender couples increased by 45 percent between 2008 and 2014 in the United States, so she is hoping her research will help answer important health questions for these couples.

This study will consist of 2,690 adults who are cohabiting or married, including their partners.

All couples will complete a survey that allows researchers to examine a wide range of health and well-being issues, including factors like depression, sleep habits, alcohol use, anxiety and social support. Participants also will report on their relationship quality, parenting issues, family support and experiences with racism and homophobia, a report by Ohio State News said.

Couples will also keep a time diary to record what they are doing and feeling throughout one 24-hour weekday and one 24-hour weekend day.

“We can use that data to look at health behaviors, the kinds of time couples spend together, to look at house, work and child care and how that’s divided, and we will also have some data on how stressed they feel across their day,” Kamp Dush said.

Kamp Dush explained that researching the environmental stressors of same-gender relationships, like living in a city where there aren’t protections for same-gender couples or living in states where there are laws against transgender people, can help researchers and doctors understand health impacts.

“Being in climates like that can be stressful,” she said. “We live in this really divisive political climate, so we’ll also be able to look at those contextual variables of where they live, and the climate of their surroundings and what that looks like and how that impacts their health.”

According to Kamp Dush, knowing some of the ways same-gender couples’ social environments impact their health and relationships can help researchers, doctors, psychologists and other health professionals serve them better.

“It’s all these little things that you experience when you are not part of the majority that we want to try and capture how those things are influencing your relationship and your health,” she said.

Kamp Dush hopes to answer questions that will help minority couples from a policy standpoint, including protection against discrimination for same-gender couples like being fired or refused service.

“It takes a team to pull off a study like this,” Kamp Dush said. “Luckily, I have a really great team that’s helping me design the best possible study that’s going to be open to use to scholars around the world when it’s done.”

Wendy Manning, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at BGSU, helped design and develop the study, Kamp Dush said.

According to the report, Ohio State co-investigators are JaNelle Ricks, assistant professor of public health, and Corinne Reczek and Hui Zheng, both associate professors of sociology.

“It’s a huge accomplishment and I feel really, really excited about the work,” Kamp Dush said. “Also, as a woman, I’m happy and proud to able to make it happen.”

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