Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gay germ theory and city size at age 16: A reader in the comments section of my post on the residential distribution of adult homosexuals raised the claim by Gregory Cochran that a same-sex orientation is caused by some pathogen. In support of the idea, Cochran cited research finding that gay men raised in or near a city outnumber gay men raised in less populated by a margin three to one, or something like that.

Most people in the comments, including myself, assumed that the greater concentration of homosexuals in cities is due to migration, but let's look at where homosexuals are at age 16 (H/T to TGGP who reminded me of the variable).


Percent of the total sex-specific population at age 16, N = 18,012

Male homosexuals
Farm 2.3
Country/non-farm 2.8
Town (lt 50,000) 2.9
City (50,000-250,000) 3.5
Big city--suburb 3.3
City (gt 250,000) 3.8

Lesbians
Country/non-farm 1.5
Town (lt 50,000) 1.6
City (50,000-250,000) 1.9
Big city--suburb 2.0
City (gt 250,000) 2.3


Here we see that as a place is more populated, prevalance rates for both gay male adolescents and lesbian teenagers increase. Why we see this pattern here, but not for adult lesbians, as shown in the last post, I'm not sure. This is a larger and thus more precise sample. That might be the answer.

So, we see more gays and lesbians in cities even before they are old enough to migrate to them. How do we explain the pattern? Perhaps families with a tendency to have homosexual offspring are drawn to cities. Perhaps homosexuals from smaller towns are less willing to admit their orientation (although they are asked the question, not when they are 16, but later when they are adults). Or perhaps Cochran is right. Comments?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for detailing this, Ron.

Cochran's comments about rural vs. urban birth/rearing went to the point about population density correlating with infection.

He has listed some possible pathogens, common viruses, but he has also been careful to say it could even be a virus we have not yet identified. There are hundreds of candidate viruses, I guess.

If it's a common childhood infection, one that all kids get, then I don't understand why the rural vs. urban numbers matter. I mean, don't kids in even rural areas get the usual childhood infections? As you can tell, I am out of my field, here.

According to Bailey, a substantial percentage of gay men exhibited gender atypical behavior in childhood. He maintains his research tends to confirm the stereotype in this area.

I am assuming that gender atypicality in play activities shows itself by a certain early age. Let's just say that by the age of 6, first grade, the kid is less gender conforming than his peers even though it's much more likely, I'd think, that the gender non-conformity is seen much earlier than this.

I wonder what we might see if we could narrow the age to 6 or so. Think the rural vs. urban/suburban would be telling?

gcochran said...

I cited _The Social Organization of Sexuality_: they pooled GSS and NHSLS data. In terms of males with same-sex experience in the last year, they found

rural 1.2
town/med, city/suburb 2.5
large city/metro. area 4.4

in terms of place of resident at 14/16

you can google the book with this key phrase "levels of urbanization of current and adolescent place"

Now I have to say that I deeply resent the fact that you caused me to go back and sift through a fair number of papers on homosexuality in order to find this, because
most are such trash as to make me despair for the human race. Not even talking about the Indo-European Urheimat brings out
the crazy-stupid as much as homosexuality.

Beastmaster said...

Could it be from a prenatal condition? I think there was a study cited on gnxp about a year ago that showed that pedophiles have less gray matter in the part of the brain to which we attribute sexual development. I don't really know anything about brain development, but perhaps that's likely to develop before birth.

Do all atypical sexual lifestyles correlate positively? If that is the case, then perhaps people aren't gay so much as NOT traditional-heterosexual. Perhaps they are simply capable of being aroused by a much wider range of stimuli than your average heterosexual. Perhaps homosexuality is not the result of any particular marker, so much as the combination of a mental deficiency whereby one is not instinctively directed toward indicators of reproductive health (i.e., an hourglass-shaped woman), and then coming into contact with artifices of the imagination (de Sade etc.). Such a person might just shrug their shoulders and say "well, a hole's a hole." They might then develop groups and over time consider themselves unique.

TGGP said...

Has Cochran given his take on the competing "chimerism" hypothesis and Peter Frost's hormonal one? The former doesn't explain how natural selection wouldn't purge it (twinning seems to have a genetic basis), the latter states that this is some new phenomena. Razib has stated elsewhere that it's the obligatory kind that really demands explanation, opportunistic varieties shouldn't have much of an effect on fitness. I believe Ahmadenijad is not alone among third-worlders in saying that "gays" are a modern, western phenomena not found elsewhere. To them identifying with the gay subculture is very distinct (and more subversive) than a man who merely sleeps with men. I know Greg says that reports of homosexuality go way back in a number of cultures (though not hunter-gatherers). Are these accounts of the obligate variety?

clem said...

I know Greg says that reports of homosexuality go way back in a number of cultures (though not hunter-gatherers).Shamans in hunter-gathered societies were frequently homosexual. From Edward Norbeck's (1961) Religion in Primitive Society (p. 105-6):

"Sexual aberration has not been overlooked as a sign of the divine call. Among some of the aboriginal Siberian tribes the highly effeminate youth frequently evinced the abnormal nervous behavior regarded as the call to become a shaman. Males in these societies customarily adopted the clothing of women once they had embarked upon a career of shamanship. Some, but not all, of these transvestites were sexual inverts who, together with the female dress, adopted the manners and roles of women, taking men as husbands or lovers. Among the Chukchee, these individuals were regarded as the most powerful and fearful of shamans. Similar customs of valuing homosexual males as religious specialists have been reported among various other primitive societies including some Eskimo groups, the Sea Dyaks of Borneo, the Bugis of the Celebes, and Indians of Patagonia."

I've even seen that gay-powerful-shaman fact used as a suggestion for how "gay genes" might spread through a population (though I can't recall where I saw that).

Anonymous said...

It's simply easier to be exclusively homosexual in a Western culture. Gay men in Iran are hardly going to go around shacking up with each other and lobbying for the right to marry one another. I think they'd be dead, don't you?

Anonymous said...

The role of the berdache is often pointed to as evidence that homosexuals were around among Indian tribes when the conquerors and explorers reached the New World, but not everyone agrees with equating those berdaches with modern homosexuals. Reading about them, I came across an article by Ramon A. Gutierrez (sorry the link won't work) in which he argues that the literature suggests that, "In every North and South American Indian groups in which berdaches were reported after 1492 [their] status was one principally ascribed to defeated status."

He argues that berdaches were men treated as slaves, as inferiors, as men reduced to performing the woman's role.

Stephen said...

Gay men in Iran are hardly going to go around shacking up with each other and lobbying for the right to marry one another. I think they'd be dead, don't youThe Iranian/Persian approach is not as black and white as you seem to think.

Commitment is the key. You can be accepted as a homosexual/lesbian in Iran, but ultimately you must have a sex change (eg commit to it).

The government will even fund the necessary operations and will change all your official records to reflect your new gender. You can get married etc to someone with the same chromosomes.

Suicide rates of people faced with an impending sex change are very high...

Anonymous said...

"I believe Ahmadenijad is not alone among third-worlders in saying that "gays" are a modern, western phenomena not found elsewhere."

Nigerians are another.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is societal factors not biological that make people homosexual? Watch pablum TV, it's getting obvious. One day, we'll probably have more homosexuals about homosexuals than true homosexuals. We already have too many damn people about people.

Anonymous said...

Ron said,

"Or perhaps Cochran is right."

Did you mean right about a pathogen as cause? Right about the rural/urban data, or both?

I have to say his hypothesis makes a heck of a lot of sense considering each year evidence grows of infectious causes of illnesses, conditions,etc.

I guess someone who studies disease, an epidemiologist, etc. could help us understand if these numbers say anything.

Ted S. said...

Rather than a pathogen, what about diet? The modern, industrial-world diet is laden with historically unprecedented amounts of soy, and soy is rich in estrogen, which as a main sexual hormone, might have just a bit of influence on the matter.

My hypothesis is that the more urban the environment people grow up in, the more modern/industrial their diet is, and therefore the more soy and estrogen they ingest, and the bio-chemists can explain it from there.

References: Michael Pollan, _In Defense of Food_ (you can see most of it at Google Books)

or try: http://www.mothering.com/articles/growing_child/food/soy_story.html

Jewish Atheist said...

Maybe rural people stay in denial throughout their lives much more often?

Anonymous said...

"Maybe rural people stay in denial throughout their lives much more often?"

The documentary film, Brokeback Mountain showed that...

Anonymous said...

Brokeback?...you were joking, right?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, just saw the "documentary" descriptor. HA.

Morgan said...

The explanation is simple. For gay men, fewer 18 year olds living in rural settings are willing to admit they're gay, as compared to gay 18 year olds in cities. This is about the closet, not pathogens.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I misunderstood. I thought men were asked where they were living when they were 16 and if they were now gay.

Is that correct or not?

Anonymous said...

I believe Ahmadenijad is not alone among third-worlders in saying that "gays" are a modern, western phenomena not found elsewhere. To them identifying with the gay subculture is very distinct (and more subversive) than a man who merely sleeps with men.

I think this is the rural/suburban/urban divide. Urban liberals always think of gay identity whereas for a rural or suburban person they can have sex with men a few times, marry a woman, have children and still not consider themselves part of the gay/bissexual/transgender/lesbian identity.