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The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding
The committee chose to define the start of later life, while a vague and contested concept, as generally coinciding with retirement. The bulk of the empirical literature on LGBT aging, however, makes reference to a variety of (mostly younger) ages than this traditional cut-off point and is included in the discussion that follows. Ages younger than the traditional retirement age are included in this chapter in the context of preparations for later life, mainly as pertains to the well-known “baby boomer” cohort, the next in line to become seniors. This age issue is part of the recurring pattern noted throughout this report: much of the empirical literature on which the report draws either does not provide an age breakdown or uses a breakdown that does not match the age ranges used to organize the chapters of the report. Thus, the text that follows builds upon, and sometimes includes references to, studies and observations from the preceding chapter on early/middle adulthood. In so doing, it highlights the continuous nature of the life course while at the same time elucidating the particular circumstances of the later years.
In general, LGBT elders have not been the subject of extensive research; a recent publication reviews some of the extant literature and echoes this statement (see Fredriksen-Goldsen and Muraco, 2010). Just as aging is infrequently considered in LGBT research, the field of gerontology has infrequently considered LGBT aging issues (Scherrer, 2009). The studies in this area that have typically been reported have used small and mainly regional samples, often recruited from public venues, such as community centers, street fairs, and pride festivals. The vast majority of studies include self-identified LGBT persons; if studies describe samples of LGBT persons otherwise identified, they are highlighted below. The studies in this area also focus disproportionately on gay men and lesbians; few studies have focused on bisexual or transgender elders. Most studies, moreover, have a high representation of white individuals; very few articles have been written on racial/ethnic minorities. Although many samples include LGBT older persons of color, they are often in proportions insufficient for further analysis; thus, very little is known about these groups. The same is true for other metrics of diversity (such as rural residence, culture, or religion). Finally, almost no published research exists on the very later years of LGBT persons—ages 85 and older.
Given the limited research in this area, this chapter draws significantly on the few large-scale studies that have included older LGBT persons (and those approaching later life). It also includes a variety of more regional studies with less representative and smaller samples, as noted above. When possible, these restricted samples are described within the limiting parameters of the cited studies.
This chapter examines research that has been conducted on the health of LGBT elders and factors that influence their health outcomes. It begins