LGBT caregivers are younger, less likely to be married, more racially and ethnically diverse, and more likely to be of low socio-economic status than non-LGBT caregivers, according to a new study led by a School of Public Health researcher.
The study, published in LGBT Health, looked at caregivers providing unpaid help to adults with serious health problems.
“The demand for caregivers is expected to rise due to the aging of the population and the increase in chronic diseases,” says lead author Ulrike Boehmer, associate professor of community health sciences. “This makes caregiving a public health issue in urgent need of attention, and our study suggests that among the caregivers are many LGBT individuals about whom we know very little and whose needs are unknown.”
Unpaid caregiving is generally linked to increased risk of physical and mental health difficulties and financial strain. In 2014, about 9 percent (3.4 million) of caregivers identified as LGBT, compared to only about 4 percent of the American population who identify as LGBT. Researchers say that data on the experiences of this caregiver population is lacking.
“Despite the higher prevalence of informal caregivers among LGBT adults, research on this population’s experience is limited to either non-representative samples that lack heterosexual cisgender comparison groups or to qualitative studies of LGBT caregivers providing care to LGBT individuals,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, little is known about how LGBT caregivers’ experiences compare with those of non-LGBT caregivers.”
The researchers conducted a secondary analysis of the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) survey with a sample of 1,199 individuals between the ages of 21 and 80 years who answered a question about LBGT status.
The researchers found that participants who identified as LGBT were demographically different from non-LGBT caregivers. Sixteen percent of LGBT caregivers were black and 29 percent were Hispanic, compared to 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively, among non-LGBT caregivers. LGBT caregivers were also equally likely to be women or men, compared to 60 percent of non-LGBT caregivers who are women.
About 52 percent of LGBT caregivers reported financial strain compared to 38 percent of non-LGBT caregivers. LGBT caregivers also suffer from poor health and emotional stress at higher levels than non-LGBT caregivers.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to compare characteristics and outcomes of LGBT and non-LGBT caregivers in a large, representative sample of adult caregivers in the United States,” the researchers wrote. “By contrast, previous studies of LGBT caregivers either lacked a comparison sample, used qualitative methods only, or focused on LGBT elders as care recipients or caregivers.”
The authors advocated for future national surveys to include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to provide researchers, program planners, and policymakers with better estimates on LGBT caregivers and their service needs.
SPH co-authors include: Timothy C. Heeren, professor of biostatistics; Elizabeth Ann Showalter (SPH’16), and Lisa Fredman, professor of epidemiology. Melissa Clark, senior director of research and evaluation at the Center of Health Policy and Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, also served as co-author.