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Sexual Orientation, Parental Support, and Health During the Transition to Young Adulthood

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Abstract

Some recent studies suggest that sexual minorities may have worse health-related outcomes during adolescence because they report lower levels of family connectedness, a key protective resource. Using data from wave 3 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n = 11,153; 50.6% female; mean age = 21.8 years), this study extends prior research on adolescents to young adults. We examine whether lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) young adults report lower levels of parental support than their heterosexual peers and whether differences in parental support help explain why LGB young adults tend to have worse health-related outcomes. We find that lesbian and bisexual women report lower levels of parental support than heterosexual women and that gay men report lower levels of parental support than bisexual and heterosexual men. Compared to heterosexual women, lesbian and bisexual women have higher odds of suicidal thoughts and recent drug use; bisexual women also have higher odds of elevated depressive symptomatology and heavy drinking. Gay men have higher odds of suicidal thoughts than heterosexual men. With the exception of heavy drinking, parental support either partially or fully mediates each of the observed associations. Even though the transition from adolescence to young adulthood is characterized by increased independence from parents, parental support remains an important correlate of health-related outcomes during this stage of life. Sexual minorities report lower levels of parental support during young adulthood, which helps explain why they have worse health-related outcomes. Interventions designed to strengthen relationships between LGB young adults and their parents could lead to a reduction in health disparities related to sexual orientation.

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Acknowledgments

This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website (http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth). No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

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The authors received no funding for this study and report no conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to Belinda L. Needham.

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Needham, B.L., Austin, E.L. Sexual Orientation, Parental Support, and Health During the Transition to Young Adulthood. J Youth Adolescence 39, 1189–1198 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-010-9533-6

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