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25 Mar 2009

Gay and lesbian affluence a myth: US study

Contrary to the oft-heard refrain by marketers about affluent gay men and women being a "dream demographic," a study in the US has found that LGB Americans struggle with poverty just as much as, if not more than, heterosexuals.

Researchers from the Williams Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles analysed data from the 2000 census, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and the 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview surveys, and used the federal poverty standard as a guide. The researchers described the study, which was released last week, as being the first study of its kind.

The gay demographic no longer a marketer's dream?
The study only looked at lesbian, gay and bisexual couples, and not singles as study author MV Lee Badgett explained that most nationwide surveys record only marital status and not sexual orientation.

The analysis found that seven percent of lesbian couples are living below the poverty line, compared to four percent of gay male couples and five percent of opposite-sex couples.

It also found that after "adjusting for a range of family characteristics that help explain poverty," same-sex couples are "significantly" more likely to be poor than opposite-sex married couples. Children of gay couples are also found to be living in poverty at a rate that is twice as much as the children of straight married couples.

Analysing two datasets that allow for overall comparisons of poverty among LGB adults and heterosexual men and women, the researchers found that women's poverty rates are higher than men's.

Using national data from the NSFG for people ages 18-44, it found that 24 percent of lesbians and bisexual women are poor, compared with only 19 percent of heterosexual women. At 15 percent, gay men and bisexual men have poverty rates equal to those of heterosexual men (13 percent) in the NSFG.

For people living in California, the CHIS shows roughly equal poverty rates for lesbian and bisexual women (13.4 percent) and heterosexual women (15.9 percent), but gay/bisexual men's poverty rate is lower than that of heterosexual men - 7.2 percent versus 12.3 percent.

Badgett contended that LGB people are at least as likely - and perhaps more likely - to experience poverty as are heterosexual people due to issues such as vulnerability to employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage, higher rates of being uninsured, less family support, or family conflict over coming out.

The study's co-author Dr Gary J. Gates, who serves as the Williams Distinguished Scholar at The Williams Institute, wrote in a guest column on bilerico.com that the "notion that gay people are disproportionately wealthy represents one of the most common and pernicious myths surrounding the LGBT community."

"This new research presents some provocative findings that challenge popular myths about gay affluence. But perhaps more importantly, the findings also challenge the LGBT movement and its political agenda. Our analyses clearly highlight the importance of issues like marriage equality, employment discrimination, and military service-all policy arenas that affect LGBT economic conditions and opportunities."

The "Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community (PDF)" can be downloaded from www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute .

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-03-25 19:25  
Reality bites.

I've long been sceptical of the Pink-Dollar Industry. And the so-called open-mindedness of American society. ;-)
2. 2009-03-25 20:05  
You reap what you sow. Wanna be rich? Follow the scent of the money, go to the place where it is most concentrated.
3. 2009-03-25 20:34  
But the LGBT group intends to spend more than hetero group?
4. 2009-03-25 20:41  
I would find this research a bit more credible if it were not politically linked to the lack of access to LEGAL MARRIAGE argument, or in direct response to the ruling of one U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Even in a time of severe financial downturn, one's socio-economic status has much more to do with one's EDUCATION and TRAINING (or lack of) rather than SEXUAL ORIENTATION or MARITAL STATUS.
5. 2009-03-25 20:41  
Results indicate that, on average, women earn less than men - no great surprise - and nothing to do with sexual orientation!
6. 2009-03-25 21:29  
This does make sense: there are lots of issues which can make lesbian and gay people perform less well economically. It's also interesting that the survey looks only at couples: my guess is that (with honourable exceptions) long-term singles also achieve less economically than those in Relationships, and a higher proportion of lesbian and gay people are long-term single than of straight people.
7. 2009-03-25 21:36  
I ever talked about this to a GWM friend of mine, sometime back, his opinion is that it roughly evens out. Straight couples spend on their children and what not. Gays and lesbians spend similiarly on whatever's important to them, and both, similiarly, have things like debts to pay off in the long term.

And as much as I hate to admit it, it seems to me that gays and lesbians (and maybe gay men in particular) seem to be both compulsive AND impulsive spenders.

But I also say that everyone, straight, gay, or otherwise, can afford to be more discerning in the way they spend money, or at least compriimise somewhat. If you want that expensive jacket, forego the bi-monthly haircolour touchups. If you want that gold earring, skip this season's hangbag, especially if you have a gazillion past seasons in the wardrobe. Chances are you already have a similiar looking item from the past anyway.

If nothing else (and I apologize for the digress), most (flamboyantly) gay men i see tend to be overdressed anyway (implying a nouveau-riche immaturity), and could afford to lose some of the glitz. It would certainly make them look more authentic and apporachable, since I see the low-key, subtle apprach as being more genuinely classy and respectable. After all, blatant flaunting of perceived wealth implies that its a novelty (new thing) for the person in question, which in turn means that they have not handled large amounts of money often enough to know what constitutes wise spending or even, I daresay, good taste...
8. 2009-03-26 00:58  
although I should not be happy with the research findings but I am "glad" such a myth is debunked, so as the notion as if white gay men only constitute the gay community or the the US of A is a leader of LGBT rights, etc.
and for the "T" conspicuously absent from the LGBT in this research, I guess they are not better off economically either. If only people frequent this website could start to see the world in less euro/american centric manner!
9. 2009-03-26 03:37  
It's a good study and similar studies in other countries should be done, focusing on a variety of issues, such as causes of poverty and other key issues. Congratulations to the researchers and the university/law school which sponsored the study.
10. 2009-03-26 06:04  
Any poverty in the gay community probably has more to do with the high price of martinies and extravagant living and not saving for the future.

11. 2009-03-26 09:56  
Gays sometimes choose to be poor; they overspend to look pink!
12. 2009-03-26 10:05  
oh no ! the only way to sugarcoat homosexuality against authoritarian regime and culture like singapore has been shattered by this study, and particularly singapore, how on earth u can get gay freedom if its not by language of money??? arghhhhh!!!! even a special place in European Union or Nato wont guarantee all the Lees and Lims to say 'hey lets go by the back door' if ur not gonna give a lil' sumthin' sumthin'
13. 2009-03-26 10:36  
An interesting research perspective. I agree partially with zamani7979, with regards to sugercoating our sexual orientation, but i won't go as far as to presume that $$ is the only way to get our rights. I'm definitely not coming from a puritannical gay activist p.o.v but i still have faith in the masses. ;) I think there's more than enough portraying LGBTs in a bad light (generally dark and depressed, Eros-obsessed) . Being correlated to affluence is not essentially "good" but it sure is a much more +ve image than suicide-thoughts-after-a-foursome.

As for the charges abt being "flamboyant" and saying how we could downplay it to make ourselves more "approachable", i think thats a typical case of stereotyping ourselves. The only reason why people do perceive us at loud and pink, is because people in general only can identify the loud and pink ones as "gay". This problem can be resolved if we could simply ALL COME OUT. Haha but apparently that isn't an option so we should just wait for the day when the media and the arts decide to portray us in a more just light.

As for telling our own people how to spend ,it is as pointless and distasteful as how everyone is telling us which gender we should sleep with. I was hoping our own people were less bigoted but too bad.

As for the factors why PLUs are more likely to be poor - Reasonable. But what about the immeasurable factors that make us more likely to succeed? I mean even if gay affluence is a myth, i would like to think that we do have a force driving us to make it in life DESPITE the tides against us. This can take LGBT research further. Altho it might encourage even more stereotyping but for now i think we wouldn't mind positive stereotyping. (refer to first point)

The entire significance in the above research is SUMMED UP in its LAST PARAGRAPH. Finally we have a new footstand besides lofty ideals of equality and prejudice-leads-to-more-HIV.
14. 2009-03-26 12:11  
well, from what i notice.
lesbians yes, cause they tends to make less and had to save more. and then there's the having babies and raising a family issue thus less spare cash.
gay boys no, cause no matter how little they make, gay boys always got more spare cash (to spend), dude. ^_-
Comment #15 was deleted by its author
16. 2009-03-26 13:52  
To amoebavirgin:

I agree that it's only possible to judge what is visible or blatant, and in my previous comment, I had left out the other subgroups such as 'bears' and 'leather', who define the aesthetic through ruggedness. That is why 'flamboyant' is in brackets.

The sad thing is that stereotyping has become a sort of necessity, to the point that it has become confused with facts. Would it be stereotyping to say that all goths wear a majority of dark colours? More starkly: Would it be stereotyping to say all homosexuals are exclusively attracted to the same sex? Today I see people who define themselves in a certain subculture, but do not follow any of its 'requirements' as one might put it. What it one to make of a person dressed like a hippie, wears bling, listens to John Lennon and calls himself a goth?

In spite of a person's longing for individual recognition, there is always a part of them that also wants to identify with a certain group of people who share common beliefs and ideas. This is human nature and is not contradictory as there is always a balance between the two.

A darker aspect is chances are that many stereotypes are, beneath the mess of lies and ideals of hyperreality, are based on a certain number of facts. Facts that may have been blown out of proportion, but facts nonetheless, something evidenced by the need to 'sugar-coat' ANYTHING in the first place. If someone takes two jelly beans out from a bowl, one white and one blue, do they then conclude there are only white and blue jelly beans in the bowl? What about the other colours? And are there only jelly beans? But certainly a jelly-bean can be distinguished from a cracker. But people have discarded facts along with misconceptions in favour of political correctness, and thus rule out some degree of ability to help themselves by facing some negative aspects and tackle them at their base: the fact that they exist. But then again, jelly beans are nice and soft and everyone seems to want to be recognized as a jelly bean even when they are not.

My boyfriend is Javanese. When I brought him home, my parents noticed that straight away. He has darker skin, after all. Our culture differences (another variant of stereotyping) were also apparent, and we acknowledged them, but it didn't really change anything. In fact our families get along fairly well. So is acknowledging cultural and ethnic differences being racist?

Back tracking a little, whether wealth as a stereotype is positive at all is highly subjective (something many people take for granted). If I were to elaborate: when I talk about 'proper spending', I'm not just talking about gays, nor am I saying one can't enjoy wealth or life or express oneself. But what I'm trying to get at is people (of any kind) investing more confidence in material things than is due. An expensive accessory may make you look and feel good, but it does not make you invincible. Giorgio Armani commented on the economic downturn, saying fashion has been too 'euphoric' for many years. It's just a nice way of saying complacent, where shock value has taken precedence over the practical use of clothes, and complacency and greed are what landed us in this mess in the first place. Because people may not care, but there ARE proper/practical ways to do certain things. A pen is a tool for writing, not a chopstick. If someone designed a chopstick which wrote like a pen at its eating end, all the artistic rationale in the world would not convince anyone to eat food stained with writing ink.

As for marriage, I have been given the impression that civil unions are equal to marriage in terms of legal status, at least in some places, But gays are still dissatisfied and are looking for any excuse to fight over a mere word. Marriage, for what it is, has its roots in religion, something many gays seem to take pride in shunning. Do gays really want to put themselves through a stuffy ceremony where everyone is crowded together, dressed in white, eating puffy foodstuffs and making token references to God? I would let the church keep its precious ceremonies and their dogmatic beliefs (hey-a stereotyping against the church!). The problem is when a religious artifact if entwined with law. In any case, there used to be a time when gays took pride in their marginalisation, wore rings together without an official ceremony (because marriage could be viewed as psychological), and sublimated their sexuality into useful social contributions like artistic creativity and innovation (another MAJOR 'positive' stereotype). But forgetting that homosexuals in other countries are routinely tortured and executed, gays in 'developed' countries have been reduced to a bunch of pampered, whining children who want that last bit of candy. I'm tempted to see the fight for marriage as little more than another trophy in the culture wars. Next we'll be fighting for divorce, perhaps?

If gays were really such an empowered lot, we wouldn't be fighting so hard for the right to have the law babysit us the way they babysit straight couples (personally being able to have sex and not be seen as a criminal seems like a big enough deal to me) or cater to everything we ask for. We would be more recognised for working against overwhelming odds that were actually both existing and apparent. Our actions thereafter should speak for themselves. Mark Bingham, the gay man who, along with others, stormed the cockpit of the hijacked Flight 93 on September 11 2001 to avert the intended terrorist attack, is a much better candidate for a hero-figure in my books than any celebrity gay icon or activist.
17. 2009-03-26 18:25  
Post #15 scissors- Well said!!!

And to Post #12 zamani7979- oh no!
The authorities will be showing their TRUE colours...soon.
18. 2009-03-27 11:28  
Upon rethinking the article and the basic precept of the survey... the demographic line is not a higher level of affluance, it is a higher percentage of disposable income, based on not having to pay for children, save for family/college expenses, or even a house, as many single or couples spend their money on trips, clothes and entertainment.

I am a very hard working and frugal gay man, but I will concede I am able to give 20% of what I make to charity annually, eat out almost every day of the week, socialize as I wish and still save.... it is about discretionary spending...having the ability to spend, not affluence, which is usually attained by NOT spending.... I do hope our pitiful new President, Mr Obama learns that lesson soon
19. 2009-03-27 20:34  
i think, more than anything else, this makes me wish that there were proper avenues for lesbians to seek help and support financially, legally and psychologically without the fear of discrimination here. i am aware that there are pockets of efforts and that there are financial assistance plans available but they usually sidestep the issue of sexual orientation as cause of vulnerability or are woefully uncoordinated. i do feel for them. on another note, i cannot imagine our government not being aware of such statistics before this study, being the technocratic and pragmatic state that we are. there are other reasons for them to tolerate our existence as long as we are vulnerable to global forces and perception, dependent on foreign talent and keen on developing a creative workforce.

just curious, in this alternate universe where civil unions are legal, what do people call themselves after the ceremony, i mean, what is the 'we are married' equivalent? legally partnered/ entitled to heterosexual misery sounds so inadequate...just trying to write a 'congratulations' card here.
20. 2009-03-28 11:24  
To Scissors:

First of all, HI! I'm pretty new to fridae forums (actually forums of any kind), so i guess its always good to establish the cordiality of our "debate" first. :) But unlike a debate, i believe we're not here to disagree. We just want to make sense and burrow deep into the issue at hand and hopefully discover all potential questions and answer them if possible.

Anyways. =)

Firstly, I guess what you are saying behind er.. the very tedious jellybean analogy (heehee) and the goth-Lennon reference, is that accepting and in my case, embracing positive stereotypes might undermine our quest to one day receive true understanding. Yes it will. I agree. But like trying to convince my mother that my China boyfriend is good for me, I can't start off talking about love and heartheartheart and how we have a spiritual connection. Its always easier to let her know that we're having safe sex. He's financially sound (cos she thinks ALL chinese are sy conniving grafters). He pays for his own bills. What i'm saying is, true understanding is always the ideal. Attacking bigotry and prejudice from its foundation and uprooting it is definitely my choice. But how DO we go about doing that. I'm sure it wasn't the soppy but true stories in our repeal 377A petition that urged a reaction from our PM. It was the numbers and media attention and participating professionals and certain pressure from the pro-gay MPs. I'm sure it wasn't our noble claims of equality that prompted DBS to withdraw their charity procession to that Christian fundamentalist anti-gay group. It was our threat to cut our cards up. Foucaltian's obsession with power is a nightmare but we can't deny its the truth. Empowering Gays in general requires a less apathetic but ALSO less idealistic and largely pragmatic approach.

Please please do not misinterpret me. =) I believe in differences. I believe in bridging them (ultimately). I believe that people should accept that gays are all different too. Why I think we should not tackle the fundamental differences by encouraging a humanitarian love AT FIRST, is because trying to tell a certain Prof Li Ann that "we love and should be loved too" is almost like telling her her father eats poo. But i'm also NOT saying that we should happily accept certain "pseudo-positive" stereotyping (like affluece) and sit in our crystal castles and happily mock the world. Well, actually we would if we could. Haha. But we can't, cos the stereotype isn't true. We are like any other demographic. So between being deludedly glad about being misunderstood and painfully(for us) honest, i suggest we go for a balance. We know what we want and believe at the end of the day. But how we go about doing it is the question. Why the need for sugarcoating? For e.g. I believe the pink market, is a Pink enchantment, sure it may not be true, but its almost intuitive presence now, means more gay ads, more gay-targetted ads, more sensitivity (at least commercially) to our needs and wants, more media coverage, more gay artistes, gay portrayal on tv. Sure, exposure will piss of the fundamentalists more, but it might just
increase the comfort level of a mother who is distraught about her gay son coming out cos she knows there are people out there like her and him too.

On the other hand. Sure we can fight all prejudices, internal or external. We can shatter all enchantments (even the self-imposed ones that keep some of our egos intact) to discover the "truth". Then what is the truth? What makes up our gay lifestyle? Or (GASPS) we do not even have a coherent lifestyle (or if u prefer, attitude towards life) to distract Straight Joe from the only fact he knows is SURE : we sleep with our own sex. Try telling a person about Martians. Try saying they are all different, all diverse, they have the kind, the philantrophic angels but they have the incestuous fathers and child rapists too. Do people take comfort in that? I'll personally like to say the Martians can levitate and have 3 heads. Take it or leave it. I think one visit to a fundamentalist Church (or just talk to my dad! haha) might affirm the effectiveness of my exaggerated analogy.

Understanding doesn't come "SNAP!". I believe u believe in that. It is a long , hard process. We take steps, careful, employing harmless white lies at times, strategic steps. I don't know if you can see my point ( u don't even have to agree) but i think i might have a psychological explanation for our differences (which u of all people should embrace!) - my coming out process was a disaster. Lets just say it involved irrational and rash honesty and potloads of regret.

As for ur point about wealth not being a positive stereotype (which i must say was so discreetly hidden under your digressions). Hmmm I don't know about u but i think generally yes? Personally i'm not material/wealth-obsessed. Im a lit major and spend hours on cultural criticism. Just an example of how detached from "the money machine" i can be too. Its just my attitude. Nothing to be proud or ashamed of. But whether affluence creates a generally positive image or not, i hope some sociologist could do some research. Sure Cinderella and Pinocchio tried to instill some "Poor people can be Good too" ideal in us, but they did turn rich in the end. How wealth is generally associated with stabilty, health and comfort is almost undebatable. But the correlation between Person A's attitude towards Person B and Person B's affluence, that is an interesting statistic i would love to know.

As for marriage. First of all, please go read up on the details about legal right differences between civil unions and marriages. I didn't get it before but did some reading and realized how wrong i was.

As for the significance of marriage, i think we can all have our own opinions and respect others.

As for where our empowerment should be focussed on is another question because we have to agree this time round if we want to get a maximum effect. Sure, we applaud the gay superhero you mentioned. He showed them that we are like them and we can be brave like their brave ones. And because of them, we ARE them. But how many people are affected by this singular heroic gesture? I prefer working on rights of the masses. Because decriminalization of gay sex, gay marriage, gay employment in the civil service are all issues that most us ignorant people are concerned about. And they are also what most of them ignorant straight people are concerned about. Like it or not, the Politics of Numbers (or the power of majority) is here to stay as long as democracy is here. So we have got to work on places where everyone has got their eyes on. So don't underestimate the gay icons and celebrities. The fact is most people know Elton John and now Harvey Milk, but Mark Bingham really doesn't even ring a bell. And although gay movies and plays are commonplace, trite and almost commercialized, these are what conjures up views or stereotypes of us gays to the straight people. And these stereotypes, positive or not , are not going to go anytime soon. So we have got to work for what straight people find important. Because that shows we share the same values. I want to be able to pass my inheritance to my partner automatically when i die. I want him to be my insurance payee. I want to have sex without that slight voice at the back of my head telling me i might be entrapped.

But that is NOT to say there isn't a difference in the problems our African sisters (burnt by husbands for being unable to pay their dowry) or Islamist brothers (hanged at the age of 18 and 15 for gay sex) face as opposed to ours . While ours is a matter of rights and convenience, theirs is a matter of life and death. We have to keep giving them support and if we could, lets all fly there and pound their officials. But hey, I'm gonna be real honest here, I'm definitely not that noble. I'm no Gandhi or ML King. But im definitely not apathetic or hypocritical either. If i could, I would. But at least for now, i want to start my work back home. Because there is teenage trauma when coming out, suicide cases, rampant unprotected anal sex, gays who get married . Who is to say these are not important? Maybe significantly less but i say, for the lesser but still concerned, do not turn them away but charging upon them all-too-heavy ideals of true equality and a global uniform pace of liberation. Let them join these empowerment and let us all take a place. Why burden them by belittling what they hold dear to them , be it marriage rights or employment. Let the weaker hold a stick and the stronger hold a sword. Because i have seen too many a time, people turn away from charity and activism only because they were dwarved by all the loftiness.

Just my tots. =)

21. 2009-03-29 02:27  
all things being equal, it's not such a bad stereotype to considered "richer" or better off than some other "groups". That , not withstanding, there are issues of poverty noted in the study which should be addressed in every country in the world.

Still, I do find it a compliment, that in many areas in the world, when gays move into a neighborhood, it becomes trendy, secure, and an 'in place' to be, property values go up. This is good for us, I hear it and see this going on in Chicago, San Francisco, Sacramento, CA, New York City, Bangkok, to name a few.

In a world that still discriminates a lot about gays, the sterotype of being richer and tasteful, is one that is good.
Let's play to our strengths no matter how silly they may be.

But about the study, my second reaction is that the income differences may be more a matter of "class" than sexual preference. And ethnicity, unfortunately. and gender.

22. 2009-03-29 17:36  
Post #19 amoebavirgin

if you wanted to write your own article i suggest you get a sponser. I found what you wrote tedious to say the least and couldnt finish since I fell asleep.
23. 2009-03-29 23:22  
I am so sorry about my inability to be concise! But i will still enthusiastically wait for someone with a longer attention span and less apathy to contribute to the discussion we're having here.
24. 2009-03-30 10:03  
5Degrees is organising the PINK Month in April 2009. (see http://www.5-degrees.org/)

5Degrees, in conjunction with our 1st year anniversary is organizing the PINK MONTH. In the spirit of Harvey Milk, we hope to rally our community to rise up to the occasion to support our PINK and pro-PINK businesses, and in return the businesses will be offering a special discount to the supporters.

Remember, this campaign will only be successful if every member of the GLBT community takes part and support the merchants, so that more merchants will join this meaningful campaign the following year.

You just have to take note of these few points:

1. The PINK MONTH lasts the entire month of April 2009.

2. You can download the FAQ (below) to understand more about this campaign and find out about the participating merchants.

3. You can download and print out the PINK Pass. Each pass can be exchanged for a discount by the merchant.

4. SUPPORT, SUPPORT and SUPPORT. This is the best occasion for the GLBT community to show that we indeed have the PINK Dollar, and we make the economic difference.

At the end of the month, 5Degrees will collate the PINK Passes collected by all the merchants and share our findings with the community. Perhaps this will be a good indicator of the affluence of our community and the power of the PINK dollar..

25. 2009-03-30 10:28  
to amoebavirgin:

I'm glad you managed to read my reply and subsequently get back to me :-) I'm pleasently surprised at the trouble you took to further articulate your point, whether tedious/exhaustive or not. I'm sorry if I come across as lofty, though, I guess it shows how much faith I've lost in the masses and consumerism. Or maybe just how alienated I've become from society (i don't even watch TV anymore).

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