New Study Refutes Myth of Gay Affluence and Confirms Breakthrough NGLTF and IGLSS Research

May 26, 2000

Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications

A report in this month's issue of "Demography" on income levels among same-sex partners further refutes the myth of "gay affluence," a misconception that has been used to stereotype and discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said today.

In 1998, the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies issued a joint study entitled "Income Inflation: The Myth of Affluence Among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Americans." Many of the study's findings were confirmed by a separate, independent study by four academicians published in this month's issue of "Demography."

"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 NGLTF’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."

The NGLTF/IGLSS report, "Income Inflation," suggested that discrimination based on sexual orientation may be a contributing factor to the fact that gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans earn less overall than their heterosexual counterparts. "Despite popular myths, this information is not surprising given the high level of discrimination experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, who come from all sectors of society, without regard to economic status, and experience discrimination that may at times affect their earning power," the report concluded.

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 the Colorado Amendment 2 case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In that case, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited misused market research statistics on gay and lesbian people when he 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. Scalia's dissenting opinion in the Colorado Amendment 2 case was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas.

Even when social science data provides a more accurate sketch of economic life for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, it is argued that same-sex couples, even with lower individual earnings, would still have more discretionary income than a heterosexual couple. "The stereotype of gay or lesbian couples as ‘DINKS’ (‘dual-income-no-kids’) involves two assumptions," wrote "Income Inflation" author M.V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts. "First, that same-sex couples will have higher incomes than married couples, and second, that lesbian and gay men have no children."

Further research on household incomes of same-sex couples by Badgett has demonstrated that heterosexual-couple households and male same-sex-couple households have roughly equal household incomes, while female same-sex couples bring home 18 to 20 percent less income. The economic picture for female same-sex households becomes more grim considering that at least 22 percent of lesbian couples living together have children, as reported by the "Demography" article.

Other highlights from "Income Inflation" — many supported by the latest issue of "Demography" — include:

  • Gay men who work full-time earned as much as 27 percent less than heterosexual men with comparable race, education, location, occupation, and experience.

  • Lesbians and heterosexual women have little income difference; however women as a category persistently make significantly less than their male counterparts.

  • Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are found throughout the spectrum of income distribution: some are poor, a few are rich, and most are somewhere in the middle, as are most heterosexual people.
Another report by the NGLTF Policy Institute, entitled "Out and Voting II," analyzes Voter News Service (VNS) exit poll data from 1990-1998. This report, authored by political scientist Robert W. Bailey, also indicated that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people earn, on average, less than others in the VNS sample.

Report highlights from "Out and Voting II" include:

  • In 1990, 5 percent of voters reported income of $100,000 or more, while just 3 percent of GLB voters reported that level of income.

  • In 1990, 38 percent of all voters reported income of $29,999 or under, while 43 percent of GLB voters reported that level of income.

  • In 1992, 38 percent of voters report income of $29,999 or under, while 51 percent of GLB voters reported that level of income.

  • 1996 income patterns were virtually the same as in 1990 and 1992: Slightly more than half of GLB voters, compared to 35 percent of all voters, reported income under $30,000; meanwhile, 13 percent of the 1996 GLB voters reported income above $75,000, while 18 percent of all voters reported the same earnings.

  • 1998 data show that approximately two thirds of GLB voters reported incomes in the lowest three categories (i.e. below $50,000) while only 53 percent of non-GLB voters fell into these categories.

Click here to download Income Inflation or Out and Voting II. Print copies can be ordered by visiting the NGLTF Store or calling 202-332-6483.


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movementís premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.