Nova workboard

a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

Down from the glitter angle.

When most of us think of gay people, the association with rich Caucasian individuals living by the opulent streams of a given township, wearing designed strained clothes, shopping around high-end boutiques or just standing by with lavish appetizers is almost immediate. The hazardous belief that gays and lesbians are one of the wealthiest demographics in one country (“The Myth of Gay Affluence”) is far from being a new cliché. Its influence over institutions is portrayed in several milestone LGBT[1] court cases such as the 1996’s US Romer v. Evans, where Justice Antonin Scalia proclaimed “those who engage in homosexual conduct (…) to have high disposable income and (…) possess political power much over their numbers”.

A five minutes search over the web is enough to confirm general interest to lie on the top level of income distribution over the gay community, with the “Gay wage premium” ranking first across all sort of articles. Yet, when it comes down to the bottom end, the bulk of research reveals to be scarce.

 Shortage on research over poverty at LGBT communities lies from the fact that these were invisible in most surveys. Large surveys usually report questions about marital status, ethnicity, race and many other factors which potentiate exposure to economic hardship, but not on one’s sexual orientation. The created statistical gap has been trimmed in recent years, especially in the US, following efforts to collect data allowing for sexual orientation stratification of individuals and households.

Contrary to the common belief, a landmark report by The Williams Institute revealed the LGB[2] reality to be less sparkling. Using US data, the research team found that 24% of lesbians and bisexual women were poor, when compared to the lower 19% of heterosexual women. The gap is lower for gay and bisexual when compared to their heterosexual counterparts, with a poverty share of 15% and 13%, respectively. From a twosome perspective, lesbians represent the higher stake for couples living below the poverty line:  6,9% of lesbian couples, 5,4% for different-sex married couples and only 5% for gay male pairs. When determining poverty rates for all members of a family, two adults and children, the poverty rates over lesbian families is roughly 10%, compared to 6,7% for those of different-sex couple families and only 5,5% for those in gay male coupled families. Although the likelihood for gay and lesbian couples to have children in is lower, data exposed children of same-sex couples to be twice as likely to be poor than children of straight married couples. Though strict to US data, the study becomes heavily expressive for the formerly mentioned society’s distorted perception.

Several field experiments were already performed and might help to assess the nature of poverty across LGBT communities. A 2011 study from the University of Chicago found gay applicants to be 40 percent less likely to be granted an interview when compared to  equally qualified heterosexual counterparts. Following the same premise, Doris Weichselbaumer  reports an indicator for lesbian orientation to reduce the probability to be invited to an interview in roughly 12-13% when compared to a non-homosexual equivalent female. Employment discrimination is also observed across transgender people, with the Human Rights Campaign findings revealing 20 to 57 percent of surveyed trangenders acknowledging to have experienced both high barriers to entry the labor market and also employment discrimination, including being fired, denied a promotion or being harassed.

Though labor market discrimination may be attributed itself as the major cause for the former results, evidence shows experiences with discrimination and stigmatization of men and women with same-sexual stories to result in higher propensity to depression, drug and alcohol dependence and higher rates of development of psychiatric disorders,  when compared to exclusively heterosexual fellows.

There is for sure room for policy action to detract negative effects of sexual orientation discrimination. Enforcing currently existing (or enactment of) laws of anti-sexuality discrimination and allowing same-sex marriage may take place as a major first step. But dismissing leaky premises, such as the Gay Affluence one, will be the real struggle. As long as these prevail, we will continue to think about gay people from the flamboyant perspective, agreeing LGBT community not to economically strive like the rest of the population. We will continue to watch gay couples living upstream lives like we have seen so far. Or at least those we are used to see on the TV, like that of Mitchell and Cameron from a “Modern Family”.

Vítor Pereira Santos.


[1]Abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender

[2] The lower level of data for sampling on Transgender prevented the team to include the latter on the study.


Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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