Decrements in health-related quality of life associated with gender nonconformity among U.S. adolescents and young adults

Qual Life Res. 2017 Aug;26(8):2129-2138. doi: 10.1007/s11136-017-1545-1. Epub 2017 Mar 17.


Purpose: Gender nonconformity, that is, transgressing conventionally "masculine" vs. "feminine" characteristics, is often stigmatized. Stigmatization and discrimination are social stressors that raise risk of adverse mental and physical health outcomes and may drive health inequities. However, little is known about the relationship between such social stressors and health-related quality of life (HRQOL). This paper aimed to examine associations between perceived gender nonconformity and HRQOL in a cohort of U.S. adolescents and young adults.

Methods: Using data from 8408 participants (18-31 years) in the U.S. Growing Up Today Study (93% white, 88% middle-to-high income), we estimated risk ratios (RRs) for the association of gender nonconformity (three levels: highly gender conforming, moderately conforming, and gender nonconforming) and HRQOL using the EuroQol questionnaire (EQ-5D-5L). Models were adjusted for demographic characteristics, including sexual orientation identity.

Results: Gender nonconformity was independently associated with increased risk of having problems with mobility [RR (95% confidence interval): 1.76 (1.16, 2.68)], usual activities [2.29 (1.67, 3.13)], pain or discomfort [1.59, (1.38, 1.83)], and anxiety or depression [1.72 (1.39, 2.13)], after adjusting for sexual orientation and demographic characteristics. Decrements in health utility by gender nonconformity were observed: compared to persons who were highly gender conforming, mean health utility was lower for the moderately gender conforming [beta (SE): -0.011 (.002)] and lowest for the most gender nonconforming [-0.034 (.005)].

Conclusions: In our study, HRQOL exhibited inequities by gender nonconformity. Future studies, including in more diverse populations, should measure the effect of gender-related harassment, discrimination, and violence victimization on health and HRQOL.

Keywords: EQ5D; Femininity; Gender nonconformity; Health-related quality of life; Masculinity; Stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sickness Impact Profile*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult