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Gays Earn Less Money:  New Study

IN continuing developments regarding the question of whether gay and lesbian people make more money - and have more money to spend -  new research was published this week concluding that some gay men earn less than their straight counterparts even though they're better educated.

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In a new study published in this month's edition of a journal entitled Demography, researchers reportedly concluded that men who self-identified on the 1990 US census as an 'unmarried partner' of another man have more education on average but earn less than those in the same age groups who self-identified differently.

Researchers also used data from two other studies that examined the gay and lesbian population:  the (US) National Health and Social Life Survey and the General Social Survey.

Women, however, were not shown to differ significantly.

Results showed that among men aged 25-34 living with a male partner, 29 per cent had at least a college degree, and 13 per cent a graduate degree, compared with 13 per cent and four per cent for men with female partners.

However, within the same age group, men with a college degree and a female partner had mean earnings of $29,162 a year, compared with $28,618 for same-sex unmarried partnered men with a college degree.  For those with graduate degrees, the discrepancy grew to nearly $4,000 - $36,072 to $32,465.

It is likely that only the result of differences in salary for those with graduate degrees is statistically significant.

Although education differences on average between the two groups are not reflected in salaries, the only provisional conclusion is that the education of some self-identified same sex partner men is going uncompensated in the workplace.

Results for men in the age group 35-44 were similar to the previous age group except that the incidence of a graduate education doubled for both categories of men and salaries increased for all men.  However, salaries for those with 'college degrees' were 7% higher for respondents with female partners.

Had the results not bundled bachelor and graduate education in the reporting of salaries for the men in the latter age group, and had shown that same sex partner men had lower salaries than their opposite sex partner counterparts with the same graduate level of education, a conclusion of salaries of same sex partner men not rising with a graduate education could have been made.


One US rights group was quick to conclude from the study that discrimination against gays and lesbians results in lower income levels.

While the myth of affluence helps our communities gain the attention of powerful corporations, the real dangers lie in how the myths skew the political priorities of the movement and hurt our ability to advocate on issues of economic justice.

  - Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit,
"An important point that is clearly articulated is that it illustrates the impact of anti-gay discrimination on income levels," David Smith, spokesman for the organization Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians, told the AP.

Another group simply concluded that the data refute misconceptions about gay and lesbian income levels, saying that the study confirms previous research of their own.

"As the real outline of economic life for gay, lesbian and bisexual people becomes more defined through these studies, we see that stereotypes portraying our communities as only rich are distorted," said Ingrid Rivera-Dessuit, coordinator of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Racial and Economic Justice Initiative.

"While the myth of affluence helps our communities gain the attention of powerful corporations, the real dangers lie in how the myths skew the political priorities of the movement and hurt our ability to advocate on issues of economic justice," she added.

Ms. Rivera-Dessuit pointed out that assumptions of disproportionate income among GLBT people have found their way into the courts in crucial civil rights challenges, such as when US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that "high disposable income" gave gay people "disproportionate political power," and that Colorado voters should be permitted to rein in that power by banning anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual residents.  That minority opinion in the Supreme Court's ruling was shared by two other Justices.

Meanwhile, with respect to women, results may need further thought prior to interpretation.  The lack of salary difference between those self-identifying as having a same sex versus opposite sex partner, for example, may be due to all women on average earning less than their male counterparts.  The salary for both categories of women in the age group 35-44, on average, in this month's study was $31, 460, compared to $37,342 for all men.

In addition, the study found that 22 per cent of same sex partner women had children, forcing the simple theory - that gay and lesbian people have higher disposable income because of the absence of children - to be questioned.

End Result

The issue of incomes of gay and lesbian people - both total and disposable - remains a contentious one.

US rights activists and lobbyist argue that Community members don't make more money, and that assertions to the contrary antagonize efforts to achieve equality, as in the Supreme Court example above.

Other groups, including businesses and not-for-profits who want to benefit from large mainstream companies' marketing and sponsorship efforts, say the disposable incomes of gay and lesbian people are higher.  They describe the Community as a market segment that should be targeted.

The problem is that efforts to determine total and disposable incomes are plagued by an inability to know for sure that people questioned in the measurement effort are representative of all gay and lesbian people out there.  Methodological problems, as the scientists say.  Because of this, conclusions from studies are likely not valid, and the debate continues.

"Demographically, this is a hard population to target and analyze," said Seth Sanders, a author with the Demography study and an economist at the University of Maryland.  "Data on sexual orientation is not as easily available as information on race, gender and age," he concluded.