Study finds marital status reduces male mortality from HIV/AIDS

During the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, married men were significantly less likely to die from HIV/AIDS than divorced or single men, according to a recently published study.

Sociologists from the University of California at Riverside studied mortality data during the era. The study, which was published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, was the first to look into the effects of marital status on the deaths of people with HIV/AIDS.

"These data capture when HIV/AIDS was approaching pandemic level," Augustine Kposowa, the study's author, said. "People were very afraid. The perception was that only men who had sex with men were getting infected, so no one was looking at risk factors for people who were married, widowed or separated."

Kposowa and his team used data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Mortality Study and the National Death Index to track close to 763,000 individuals age 15 and older between 1983 and 1994. During that time, 410 of the tracked individuals died of HIV/AIDS.

The analysis showed that divorced and separated men were six times more likely to die of AIDS than married men. Men who never married were 13.5 times more likely to die of HIV/AIDS than married men.

For women, race was a much more significant risk factor than marital status. African-American women were nine times more likely to die of HIV/AIDS and Latinas were seven times more likely to die of the disease than white women. Kposowa said the most logical explanation for the disparity was a combination of how little was known in the 1980s about how HIV was transmitted and a healthcare system that disadvantages the poor.

"Those without care are more likely to be minority women," Kposowa said. "It's really a function of the health care system, who has access, and how soon people seek care. So in the 1980s, poor people and minorities, who often lack information about health care, were at greater risk of death from HIV/AIDS. By the time they presented themselves for health care, the disease would have progressed."

Kposowa said his assertion of a healthcare system with such disparity was supported by other studies. He highlighted that in the U.S., post-diagnosis cancer survival rates are significantly lower for people of color when compared to whites.

"The elephant in the room is the health care system and the value we put on different people because of their color and background," Kposowa said. "We don't say that consciously, but it is why the Obama administration has put so much emphasis on reducing health disparities in this country."