They’ve been played onscreen by the likes of Cher, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Willie Nelson even sang a song about them. I’m talking about rural gays, and more often than not, they’re portrayed as oppressed, depressed, destitute and damaged. But a new study finds that, contrary to popular belief, gays who live in rural areas are happier and healthier than those who live in big cities.
Researchers Chris Wienke of Southern Illinois University and Gretchen J. Hill of Arkansas State University co-authored a study that examined at the quality of life of gays who live along the rural-urban spectrum. They discovered that “the largest cities may be detrimental to gay people’s wellbeing, although more so for lesbians than for gay men.” The findings were published in the most recent edition of The Journal of Homosexuality.
The study depended on three random-sample surveys of 632 gay and lesbian participants over 18 years. The authors were a bit surprised to find that rural gays reported better health and higher levels of happiness, but they noted that the costs of urban living could outweigh the benefits.
“For gay people, large cities tend to provide more social-networking opportunities, more social and institutional supports and more tolerant social climates,” the authors wrote. “Yet, they also typically have more noise, pollution, traffic, crime and ethnic conflict – stressors that tend to erode wellbeing.”
These findings somewhat contradict the work of researchers Deborah Bray Preston and Anthony R. D’Augelli, who just this past January published a book called The Challenges of Being a Rural Gay Man: Coping with Stigma, which found that conservative atmospheres in rural areas negatively impact gay residents.
At the same time, Wienke and Hill’s study falls in line with similar studies of straight people who live on the rural-urban spectrum. A 2010 survey conducted by a British insurance company, for example, found that urban dwellers who moved to the countryside reported better quality of life.