Busting the Gay Affluence Myth: Study Reveals LGBT Americans Are Poorer Than Straights

LGBT Americans are worse off economically than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a new report from UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. Gay and bi women in particular, are more likely to face poverty.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 14,000 participants ages 24 to 32 in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Respondents who selected “bisexual,” “mostly homosexual” or “100% homosexual” as their sexual orientation, or who reported one or more same-sex sexual partners, were classified as sexual minorities.

Overall, more sexual-minority surveyees reported some level of economic hardship in the past year, more trouble putting food on the table, and more problems paying bills. The report, published in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, counters the long-held image of affluent gays with loads of discretionary income.

“Socioeconomic status is a major contributor to health and disease throughout a person’s life,” said said lead author Kerith Conron. “Understanding the extent and nature of sexual orientation differences in socioeconomic status is essential to reducing health inequities, particular as the population of sexual minorities grows and ages.”

Nationally, higher poverty rates were found among female same-sex couples than married heterosexuals. At first it appeared gay male couples were doing better than straights, but when researchers adjusted for education, employment and other demographics, their poverty rates were higher.

Sexual minority women were also more apt to be unemployed and receive public assistance and less likely to have graduated from college.

LGBT Americans

While the differences between straight and queer men were less pronounced, the latter earned less, were more likely to report economic hardship in the past year and were less likely to be homeowners. But they were more likely than heterosexual men to have a college education, which the authors say may point to wage discrimination.

Race had a surprising impact: While white LGBT Americans were less likely than white heterosexuals to be higher earners, sexual minority men who were black or Latino did better economically than their heterosexual peers.

“These patterns suggest that multiple forms of inequality, as well as factors that promote resilience, must be considered in analyses of the diverse LGBT community,” said Conron, who added that their findings underscore the need to include LGBT measures in surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The study did not address gender identity and socioeconomic class — respondents were simply classified as “male” or “female” — but numerous studies have show that trans and gender-nonconforming Americans have fewer employment and education opportunities and face higher rates of job discrimination and homelessness.

Why LGBT Americans are doing worse economically isn’t easily answered. According to Out and Equal, one in four has experienced employment discrimination in the past five years. (Nearly one in ten report leaving a job because of an unwelcoming environment.)  But another factor may actually be the rising acceptance of the queer community: Twenty years ago, a gay man usually had to move to the big city if he wanted to be out. Today he can stay in his rural town, where his economic prospects are probably worse.

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Part of this myth of gay affluence is self-created: In the late ’80s and ’90s we convinced Madison Avenue (and Washington) that we were a wealthy and powerful demographic in order to gain much-needed economic and political clout.

But we may have done too good a job: In 1996’s Romer v. Evans late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia claimed that LGBT people had “high disposable income,” which gave them “disproportionate political power… to [achieve] not merely a grudging social toleration, but full social acceptance, of homosexuality.”

From his lips to God’s ears.

Are you among the LGBT Americans facing economic hardship?

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