Stream: No, a Study Did Not Show That Same-Sex “Marriage” Laws Reduce Teen Suicide Rates

Folks, a ripe entry for the Fourth Annual Bad Science Award (and what about the Third Annual? It’s coming, it’s coming…).

No, a Study Did Not Show That Same-Sex “Marriage” Laws Reduce Teen Suicide Rates.

There is a good reason that most distrust statistical studies. That good reason is because many, maybe even most, statistical studies can’t be trusted.

Take the peer-reviewed paper “Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Association Between State Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts” by Julia Raifman, Ellen Moscoe, and S. Bryn Austin, in the once-prestigious journal JAMA Pediatrics.

This widely touted work purports to have discovered, using statistical methods, “that same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7% reduction in the proportion of all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year.” The authors say there is now “empirical evidence for an association between same-sex marriage policies and mental health outcomes.”


Think about what the authors are implying. The mere presence of gmarriage—government-defined marriage, as opposed to marriage defined by reality—stops teens from reporting suicide attempts.


If what these authors are anxious to imply is true, it must have been that some teenagers before gmarriage reported trying to kill themselves because there was no such thing as gmarriage. Or it must be that some teenagers after gmarriage became the “law of the land” thought to themselves, “You know, I was going to report trying to kill myself. But now that Bert and Ernie can be gmarried, I won’t report it.” (Both could be true.)

About the number of teenagers who actually killed themselves because of the absence of gmarriage—or because of the presence of gmarriage—nobody knows. The study only relates how many kids self-reported suicide attempts. Since most of the kids giving answers were 15-16, it can’t have been because of actual of forbidden gmarriage or marriage ceremonies that caused reporting suicide attempts (of course, there could have been a handful of child brides or grooms in data).

This is among all teens, mind, and not just the minority reporting same-sex attraction or other non-biologically oriented sexual desires. The authors claim the effect was greater in the sexual minority.

Weighted realities

Via a complicated massaging of numbers, the authors say that before gmarriage

…a weighted 8.6% of all high school students and 28.5% of 231?413 students who identified as sexual minorities reported suicide attempts before implementation of same-sex marriage policies. Same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 0.6-percentage point…reduction in suicide attempts, representing a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide owing to same-sex marriage implementation.

A weighted 8.6% to a weighted 8%, they say. This is a 7% reduction, all right, but a minor tweak in the actual weighted number. Thee numbers are weighted averages across several states and the result of a statistical model called a linear regression. The 0.6 drop is not observed, but is the output from a model.

What’s odd is that the authors report the rate for teens reporting non-traditional sexual desires (a modeled 4% drop from 28.5%), and also for all teens (that modeled 0.6% drop), a group which includes the sexual minority. But they don’t report numbers for normal teens (did this number increase?). This omission leads one to suspect the authors are fooling themselves. This is suggested in two ways.

[To learn these two ways, you know what to do!]

I saved the best, and most devastating, criticism. Don’t you want to see it?


  1. Ken

    Here’s what the authors say about the quality of their study & how the results should be interpreted:

    “Our study has some limitations. The main outcome is based on self-report, … given that a minority of individuals who attempt suicide present to hospitals and that suicides are rare and often underreported. The analyses on the association between implementation of same-sex marriage policies and adolescent suicide attempts among those identifying as sexual minorities should be interpreted with caution given the limited data availability on sexual orientation and the potential for same-sex marriage to affect sexual minority identity. We also could not control for unmeasured individual-level characteristics, including socioeconomic status, or for unmeasured state characteristics that may change over time, … Finally, our analysis does not allow us to understand the mechanisms through which implementation of same-sex marriage policies reduced adolescent suicide attempts. There is a need for further research to understand the association between sexual minority rights, stigma, and sexual minority health.”

    Read the author’s own self-reporting of their study’s limitations, and then Briggs critique — and one finds they’re pretty much in agreement!

    But Briggs says: “It is sloppy statistics — it is bad science, period — to suggest the one thing the authors thought of had to be the one and only cause of the changes.”

    And if one objectively reads the very last sentence of the short self-critique of the study’s authors, one sees that ‘the one thing they focused on and measured’ is NOT “the one thing the authors thought of had to be the one and only cause of the changes.”

    The follow-up research suggested by the authors, if ever done, may well reinforce, or refute, their empirical conclusions — limited as those are, and, as the authors concede.

    That’s a nice aspect of science — it is self-correcting.

    Contrast that with some of the ideologically immutable views expressed in the comments (the company one keeps) at The Stream relative to The Stream’s seemingly applicable comments policy:

    • Any defamatory, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive comments, or comments that encourage a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or are otherwise inappropriate are prohibited.

    • Prohibited comments will be removed as soon as discovered and commenters may be blocked

  2. Well, making homosexuality more mainstreamed and acceptable should reduce gay-teen suicide. Connecting directly to marriage may be a little trickier, but the general idea – mainstreaming a minority – is most always good for their mental health. No one, especially a teen, wants to feel like they are weird, have no place, and not understood.

    Try reading your New Testament instead of Thomist sophistry and maybe you’ll see a concurrence with my point there.


  3. Gary

    Our study has some limitations.
    Some? It’s so limited as to be worthless. Unless the purpose was to illustrate they have no actual knowledge of the subject. In that case, the title is misleading at best.

  4. oldavid

    They achieved what they wanted…. the headlines and the publicity to assist in the grooming of victims for the poofter culture.

    Mere facts are only of interest to a tiny minority of “deplorables”.

  5. Ye Olde Statistician

    our analysis does not allow us to understand the mechanisms through which implementation of same-sex marriage policies reduced adolescent suicide attempts.

    Notice the elision from correlation to causation.

  6. acricketchirps

    Mainstreaming a[n aberrantly behaved] minority is almost always good for their mental health. So let’s mainstream teen suicides!

    Going over the New Testament I think I found the part where St. Paul mainstreams gay teens–still looking for the part where Jesus makes gmarriage acceptable. I’m sure it’s there somewhere.

  7. Jean

    Can someone please explain what is Gmarriage?
    I would really like to know more – all the way from South Africa.

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