Monday, January 26, 2009

Excellent health in the Current Population Survey (March Supplement)

Another data source that has data on general health is the "Current Population Survey", which is the dataset the US Gov't uses to estimate the unemployment rate, among other things. They interview about 47,000 to 57,000 households every month from all over the country.
Mostly they ask about who in the household is employed, unemployed, looking for work, etc. But every March, they ask a lot more questions, mostly about income & benefits, including health insurance.
Near the very end of the survey, they ask about the general health of everyone in the household, and that's what I'm interested in. The datasets are pretty huge relative to the capacity of my computer, so I've only been able to look at one year, 1998, so far.
In 1998, out of 64,659 households, I could identify 25,821 couple-headed households with non-imputed data on health. 23,124 of these were mixed-sex married, 1,366 were mixed-sex unmarried, and 24 were same-sex unmarried.
Admittedly, 24 couples out of 64,659 households is a pretty disappointing yield, but I'm told that as the years go on, more and more same-sex couples get accurately recorded, so I'm looking forward to more data from the other 10 years. But, on the plus side, 24 couples have 48 men in them, so that makes the sample size a bit more robust.
As you can see from the chart, there's really not much difference between the proportion of men in male couples who report excellent health (33%, 20%-46%), and the proportion of men in mixed-sex unmarried couples (33.6%, 31.1%-36.1%), or the proportion of men in mixed-sex marriages who do (31.0%, 30.4%-31.6%).
So, the fact that these results don't support the findings I'm seeing from California is mildly disappointing, but it's also clear that gay men (at least the ones in live-in relationships) aren't in dramatically worse health, which is what you'd expect to find given how we have been portrayed in the medical literature thus far.

I'm especially excited about the prospects for this dataset for a few reasons. First, it uses the same methodology (with minor twists) over an 11 year time span, so there is a lot of data to work with, even if the gay men in relationships are probably not representative of all gay men (but neither are married men representative of all straight men, for that matter), and since it spans an 11-year period, it might be possible to look at trends in 'excellent' health over time.
Second, they try to interview about half the same households the following year, so it would be possible to look at changes in health status over time (though this would only be true for one year's change for any individual), and also health in relationships that last vs. those that dissolve.
Finally, and best of all, is that the survey covers the whole geography of the United States, so I can look at health in relation to homophobia levels much more in-depth than is possible within the state of California. Perhaps the health of gay men is better in California and New York City than straight men, and worse than straight men in Wyoming and Nebraska, that might help explain why many of the national studies don't show much difference...
What do y'all think?

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