Rural Gays Report Better Health, Happiness

Conventional wisdom says the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are the best places to live if you are gay or lesbian. A study finds the opposite is true.


Rural Inteliigence

Participants march in the 2010 gay pride parade in Hudson, New York, a town of about 7,500 in a micropolitan county. Gays and lesbians living in rural areas reported well being that was similar to those living in small cities and suburbs and better than those living in big metropolitan.

There’s a common perception that gays and lesbians who live in rural communities aren’t as happy as their counterparts living in major cities, researchers say. But a new study shows rural gays and lesbians may have a better quality of life by some measurements than those living in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

Chris Wienke of Southern Illinois University and Gretchen J. Hill of Arkansas State University looked at the well being of gays and lesbians living across the urban-rural continuum – from the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, to midsized cities, suburbs, small cities and rural areas.

What they found contradicts conventional wisdom that large urban areas are better places for gays and lesbians to live.

“Results from a large probability sample show that rural gay people fare no worse than their urban peers,” the study says. “If anything, results suggest living in the largest cities may be detrimental to gay people’s wellbeing, although more so for lesbians than for gay men.”

The study identified 632 gays and lesbians in three random-sample surveys from 1988 to 2006. Researchers analyzed these respondents’ answers to questions about their happiness, health and job satisfaction and correlated those responses to geography.

The results:

Rural gays and lesbians didn’t reveal anything that indicated they were any less happy, healthy or satisfied than gays and lesbians living in larger communities. In fact, rural homosexuals reported better responses to these questions than their peers living in the nation’s 12 largest metro areas.

The pattern was especially pronounced in the respondents’ answers to questions about health. “Gay and lesbian residents of the largest cities were significantly less healthy than those living in any other community type,” the study said.

The authors said the results were somewhat unexpected:

 “The finding that gay residents living in the largest cities experience a relatively low level of wellbeing is a bit a surprising. After all, many of the best-known meccas of gay life in the United States are located in major cities, including Greenwich Village in New York, the Castro in San Francisco, West Hollywood in Los Angeles and Boys Town in Chicago.” 

The authors theorized that any advantage that comes from living in large cities also comes with a price. “It may be that the benefits of living in extremely large cities are exceeded by the costs,” they wrote. “For gay people, large cities tend to provide more social-networking opportunities, more social and institutional supports and more tolerant social climates. Yet, they also typically have more noise, pollution, traffic, crime and ethnic conflict – stressors that tend to erode wellbeing. Other drawbacks of urban life may include high taxes, inferior public schools, substandard housing and a relatively high cost of living.”

The study had a limited sample size and was confined to U.S. respondents. But the findings were still significant when the authors controlled for demographic differences such as age, education and income levels.

The study, “Does Place of Residence Matter? Rural–Urban Differences and the Wellbeing of Gay Men and Lesbians,” appears in the Journal of Homosexuality.