Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Socioeconomic Position of Gay Men; a Review of the Evidence

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

The Socioeconomic Position of Gay Men; a Review of the Evidence

Article excerpt



"Gay Rights" have recently become a major issue in American society. Many argue that gays constitute a minority suffering from several types of discrimination and oppression, and in need of civil rights protection. This paper focuses on one aspect of this topic, and sets out to answer two questions. What is the socio-economic position of gay men, and to what extent is their position a result of discrimination? Since much of the literature on discrimination relates to racial minorities and women, comparisons will be made between the economic situation of these groups and that of gay men. In addition to reanalyzing material from existing studies, the paper contains original data based on obituaries published in The New York Times and The Washington Blade.

Examining gender or racial discrimination is easy, in one respect, since there is no problem determining who is a woman, nor how many women there are in the general population.(1) Classifying the population into heterosexual and homosexual men is obviously more problematic. Kinsey's contention that any individual was a mixture of homosexual and heterosexual elements, is still accepted by some writers.(2)

Most contemporary researchers distinguish between sexual orientation, sexual identity and sexual behavior, and point out that the three are not always the same. Some men whose sexual orientation is homosexual do not think of themselves as gay, and many young gays engage in heterosexual behavior due to cultural and social pressures (Saghir and Robbins, 1973, 184-204; Harry and DeVall, 1978, 74-78). On the other hand, many heterosexual men have sex with men without identifying themselves as gay, and even though they clearly prefer female partners. This situational homosexuality is linked to the unavailability of heterosexual outlets, and is found in all-male settings such as prisons (Gagnon and Simons 1973, 245-59) and among many married men (Humpreys, 1970). In this paper, gays are defined as men who have an exclusive or strong preference for male sexual partners, and who think of themselves as gay. In most national polls about 3% of males identify themselves as gay or bisexual.(3)

What is the socio-economic position of gays? Are they, like blacks, over-represented in the lower-paid and less skilled occupations? Are they, like women, concentrated in certain occupational sectors? Three types of data can be used to answer these questions: national surveys, surveys of gays and obituaries. It should be noted that the available data are somewhat limited, and all surveys are probably biased by the unwillingness of some gays to disclose their sexual identity. The effects of such bias will be discussed in a later section.

National Surveys

Two large national surveys, which break down respondents into "gays" and "straights," have been published. In 1986, The San Francisco Examiner, by random digit dialing, obtained a national sample of 400 gay men and lesbians. In 1992, The New York Times, in an exit poll of presidential voters, asked whether respondents were gay or bisexual. The Examiner survey found that gay men had a median income of $29,129 whereas non-gay male household heads had an income of $24,550. The New York Times survey, on the other hand, appears to show gays with lower incomes (Cronin, 1993). The New York Times comparison is misleading, however, because it uses "family income" although only a handful of gay men are married. If we make the reasonable assumption that "family income" and "personal income" are the same for most gay men, we can use census data to make a more valid comparison. This shows that gay men are more likely to have higher incomes than are heterosexual men.

Unfortunately the Examiner survey does not break down the occupational data by sex, and simply compares "gays" (including lesbians) to "straights." As a group, gays and lesbians are more likely to be in the labor force - a fact which is obviously linked to both age and marital status. …

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