One of the common beliefs about gay people in this country is that they tend to be wealthier than other demographic groups, giving them power and influence far out of proportion of their actual numbers. Nathan McDermott takes issue with that idea and calls it a myth.
The pernicious insinuation—that gays and lesbians are one the wealthiest demographics in the country—isn’t a new cliché. Some of the most ingrained public images of LGBT people are their cosmopolitan, highfalutin lifestyle; gays, so the story goes, live in gentrified urban neighborhoods like The Castro in San Francisco or Chelsea in New York, eat artisanal cheese, and drink $12 cocktails.
But like most stereotypes, the myth of gay affluence is greatly exaggerated.
In reality, gay Americans face disproportionately greater economic challenges than their straight counterparts. A new report released by UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 29 percent of LGBT adults, approximately 2.4 million people, experienced food insecurity—a time when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family—in the past year. In contrast, 16 percent of Americans nationwide reported being food insecure in 2012. One in 5 gays and lesbians aged 18-44 received food stamps in the last year, compared with just over 1 in 4 same sex couples raising children. The LGBT community has made huge political strides over the past decade, but in economic matters they still lag far behind the rest of the country….
Marketing firms conducted surveys to try to show not just affluence, but disproportionate levels of brand loyalty were a hallmark of gays and lesbians. In the media, gay men became well-to-do, cosmopolitan, and voraciously consumeristic. In 2012, Experian, a national marketing firm, released a business report claiming that the average household income of a married or partnered gay man is nearly 20 percent more than a straight married or partnered man ($116,000 compared to $94,500).“The downside,” says Gates, “is that those marketing studies looked at the LGBT community as a consumer market, which is a very different perspective compared with how a social science researcher who does poverty research would look at those questions.”…
Further corrupting the data, not all partnered gay people feel comfortable declaring their sexuality in surveys, and, a high-earning gay couple is more likely to report their sexual orientation to a census-taker than a low-earning couple, making wealthier gay people overrepresented in national surveys. Only when asked anonymously, are more gays and lesbians more willing to disclose their sexuality. In such surveys, the poverty and food-insecurity rates for LGBT people rise.
In one 2010 anonymous survey of Americans ages 18-44, gay men were found to have a poverty rate of 20.5 percent; the rate for straight men was 15.3 percent. For lesbians it was 22.7 percent, compared to 21 percent for heterosexual women. The similar rates for lesbian and straight women is attributed to the fact that women overall tend to earn less than men. Additionally, same-sex couples are 1.7 times more likely than different-sex couples to receive food stamps. The more accurate data doesn’t clarify, though, what is the cause of the gay/straight economic gap.
There are, of course, a great many wealthy gay individuals and couples, but their existence does not negate the reality of the broader LGBT demographic (and trans* people are, as a group, in far worse shape than gay and lesbian people and infinitely worse shape than the average person in almost every way).