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Shaun Bryan Ford

The Socioeconomic Status of Homosexuals and Bisexuals versus Heterosexuals as Mitigated by Age
of Respondent

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INTRODUCTION

The aim of this research study is to explore social inequality due to sexual orientation

and to examine the connection between sexual orientation, age, and socioeconomic status.

Interest in social inequality is a key characteristic of sociological study. As society has begun

to adopt progressive attitudes toward people of differing sexual orientations, career options

have begun to open to those of different sexual orientations. However, there is evidence that

prejudice still exists toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people in the United States and

abroad.

Economic oppression is, by far, the most measurable and palpable source type of

domination; therefore, this research has set a goal to describe and delineate the

socioeconomic condition of the LGB subjects sampled, as well as to infer their

socioeconomic status in relation to their heterosexual peers. By accurately describing the

socioeconomic condition of the LGB population, sociologists and socioeconomists may

begin to formulate solutions to current socioeconomic inequalities. Furthermore, in capitalist

societies, like those in the U.S. and Europe, socioeconomic status and political power are

intrinsically linked—with growing economic power, subcultures like the LGB community

may also benefit in terms of growing political power. However, the criticism of heterosexual

opponents of LGB equality—including: same-sex marriage rights, immigration rights, and

civil rights protections—contend that LGB people are beneficiaries of unfair socioeconomic

advantages, and these same critics tend to ignore the possibility of socioeconomic

oppression. The inquiry conducted herein seeks to illuminate the current socioeconomic state

of the LGB community, as opposed to that of the heterosexuals surveyed within the same

sample population. This research is important because it seeks to identify and explain

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socioeconomic discrepancies between lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and their

heterosexual counterparts.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Historically, it has been found that the number of men and women that report same-

sex desire differs greatly between those that identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. One study

of the economics of the gay and lesbian community reports that as little as 2.8% of

respondents to the General Social Survey (GSS) report a non-heterosexual identity (Black,

Sanders, and Taylor 2007). As discussed later, the GSS may not be able to accurately

measure the true non-heterosexual population, nor those whom engage in homosexual

activities while lacking a homosexual or bisexual identity. The small percentage of

respondents may skew data; however, without closer study of the data, an important social

group and their demographic characteristics may be overlooked (Black et al. 2000).

Traditionally, non-heterosexual males have been found to earn higher real incomes

than heterosexual males, and lesbian females suffer from the stigmas against their gender and

their sexual orientation (Hewitt 1995). Nevertheless, the non-heterosexual household’s

tendency to have no or fewer children (as well as other socioeconomic factors) may

contribute to the greater concentration of wealth in gay and lesbian households (Patterson

2000). Men, for instance, co-habiting with other men, would share the benefit of two male

incomes; male incomes still exceed that of females due to gender discrimination (Patterson

2000). Additionally, the feminization of poverty may be an issue with female-headed

households and lesbian households (Bianchi 1999). Partnership status appears to be

connected to both the age of the subjects and their socioeconomic condition. Older men

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appear to be partnered at an earlier age than their younger counterparts; it appears opposite

for lesbian women (Black, Sanders, and Taylor 2007). Age also appears to be a factor in

determining socioeconomic status, with middle-aged people being more likely to have

completed higher education and commanding greater job experience (Krueger et al. 2003).

Despite the growing economic power of gay and lesbian community, concentrations

of power may exist, and thereby distort the socioeconomic picture if surveying is done in a

metropolitan area (Barrett and Pollack 2005). A recent study suggested that gay and lesbian

identity may be commoditized in such a way that access to this socially constructed identity

is restricted to white, middle-class, well-educated gays and ignores the existence of working-

class gay men and women (Valocchi 1999). Therefore, the literature has traditionally

contained—and perhaps, overrepresented—gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from the higher

socioeconomic classes. Furthermore, non-heterosexual respondents may be unlikely to adopt

positive homosexual identities at a later age in their respective lifespans, as historical

attitudes toward gays and lesbians have been negatively skewed in previous decades. It is

provable that younger respondents will identify openly as homosexual or bisexual more often

than older respondents—this validated by the demographic work conducted by Black,

Sanders, and Taylor and the outcome of their study which found greater concentrations of

gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities in younger people (39 years-of-age and below), in

comparison to older people (2007).

Some studies have indicated that, although they earn a greater amount on average

than their male straight-identified counterparts, gay men in the U.K. may suffer from pay

discrimination; it was found that gay men in the U.K. do not earn as high a salary as

comparable straight man (Arabsheibani, Martin, and Wadsworth 2005). Gay men in the

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U.K.—and perhaps elsewhere—may suffer from a “gay glass ceiling” similar to that of

heterosexual women (Frank 2006). This “gay glass ceiling,” although difficult to quantify,

may cap a gay man’s socioeconomic mobility at a younger age; consequently, younger

respondents that self-identify as homosexual or bisexual may appear more economically

viable at a younger age, however, their economic mobility over the course of their individual

lifetimes may not keep pace with heterosexual respondents. It is unclear whether a general

social survey may illuminate this possibility conclusively; it is possible that a review of the

available data and its delineation may reveal this permutation of socioeconomic status as it is

affected by non-heterosexual identity as a probability. Moreover, in the U.S., one recent

study claims to reveal job discrimination against openly gay men (Tilesik 2011). The Tilesik

study methods included sending resumes to employers who had advertised in search of

candidates for job openings, and Tilesik discovered significantly fewer employers responded

to resumes of those presumably seeking interviews that listed the candidate having

experience centered around an obviously gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer student organization

while in college than those that did not blatantly list any such experience (2011). While it is

unlikely that a general survey may reveal this type of job discrimination, it is important to

realize the impact of this socioeconomic oppression and the prospective outcome as it may be

reflected in the data. Prejudice may have a significant impact on the socioeconomic condition

of those that openly identify as non-heterosexual, and it may keep those that would otherwise

openly disclose their sexual orientation from doing so within the context of a general social

survey.

Thus far, the limitations of study have been the lack of significant measure of the

socially constructed “gay” identity (Barrett and Pollack 2005) and non-traditional

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socioeconomic factors, such as job and pay discrimination (Tilesik 2011). Also, it is unlikely

that any general survey can reveal the degree of openness about a respondent’s sexuality.

Finally, socially acceptable forms of gay and lesbian lifestyle may be over-represented in any

social survey, as they appear to be the most visible; although, anti-capitalist resistance to

commoditization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual lifestyles does exist outside the mainstream in

the “queer” community (Sears 2005).

RESEARCH GOALS

The aim of this research is to conduct a study centered on sexual orientation and its

connection to socioeconomic status, as mitigated by age in relation to data collected in the

General Social Survey (GSS) for 2010 to reveal possible divergences from this sample

population and previous samples contained within preexisting research. Three hypotheses

will be tested:

H0: There is no statistically significant relationship between the age of the

respondent and their reported sexual orientation.

H0: There is no statistically significant relationship between the reported

sexual orientation of the respondent and their position in the upper or lower 50% of

the socioeconomic index (SEI), as mitigated by their age being below 40 years.

H0: There is no statistically significant relationship between the reported

sexual orientation of the respondent and their position in the upper or lower 50% of

the socioeconomic index (SEI), as mitigated by their age being 40-years-old or more.

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DATA AND METHODS

A full provability sample was utilized by the National Opinion Research Center

(NORC) in creating the General Social Survey (GSS) for 2010. The data utilized for this

research was obtained from a selection of the data collected in the GSS from 2010, which

was comprised of 1,841 cases and 50 variables. The independent variable in all hypotheses

for this research is sexual orientation, as measured by the General Social Survey (GSS) with

the nominal sexual orientation variable that possible responses of: “Straight,” “Gay,”

“Lesbian,” “Bisexual,” or “Don’t Know.” Not all respondents to the GSS 2010 were asked

the sexual orientation question; therefore, the population pool is limited in size—this will

affect the tests of the hypotheses chosen to conduct this study. To create a viable sample, the

sexual orientation variable responses were recoded into a dichotomous variable contained

within the categories of “Straight” and “Not Straight.” This recoding reflects predominate

prejudicial social attitudes that understand sexuality or sexual orientation from an essentialist

perspective. The bias attitudes of those self-identified heterosexuals against homosexual

being the backdrop from which the importance of this study is drawn, these attitudes are

therefore taken into consideration using the dichotomous recoding of the sexual orientation

variable.

The two dependent variables are age and socioeconomic index (SEI); both variables

were originally measured at the interval or continuous level of measurement. Otis Dudley

Duncan developed procedures for capturing the respondent’s SEI and Keiko Nakao and

Judith Treas utilized these procedures to create the index via the GSS 1989 study of

occupational prestige. The SEI variable was determined and quantified as a measure of

several socioeconomic factors, including: education, income, and prestige associated with

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different occupations. Possible SEI scores range from 17.1 to 97.2. To create a valid measure

of SEI and create an analysis that is capable of revealing the greatest point of difference

between the “straight” and “not straight” groups, SEI is herein recoded to form a

dichotomous, nominal variable with groups that included the lower 50% of the SEI and the

upper 50% of the aforementioned index.

The age variable asked respondents to select their current age at the date the survey

was completed. Responses ranged from 18 to 87-years-old, and 88 or older. As the literature

indicates that the age of 40 marks an upward socioeconomic trend, the variable of age has

been recoded into a dichotomous, nominal variable grouping those 39 years of age and below

together and distinct from those 40 years old or above.

As all recoded variables are represented at the nominal level of measurement, the

Chi-Square Test of Independence is utilized to ascertain if there are any statistically

significant relationships between the tested variables. The Chi-Square Test of Independence

examines observed counts and frequencies and analyzes them in comparison to expected

counts and frequencies that would occur merely because of chance.

RESULTS
Table 1: Counts and Percentages for All Variables

Sexual Orientation Count Percentage Descriptive Statistic
Not Straight 58 3.2%
Straight 1749 96.8% Mode
Total 1807 100%
Age Count Percentage Descriptive Statistic
Less Than 40 678 37.5%
40 Or More 1129 62.5% Mode
Total 1807 100%

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Socioeconomic Index (SEI) Count Percentage Descriptive Statistic
Lower 50% 1190 58.2%
Upper 50% 854 42.8% Mode
Total 2044 100%

Table 1 illustrates the count, percentages, and modes of all variables utilized for this

study. For the independent variable of respondent’s sexual orientation, the mode is “Straight”

with 96.8% of respondents identifying themselves as heterosexual, with non-heterosexuals

comprising 3.2% of the sample cases. The mode for the age variable is “40 or More” with

62.50% of all respondents categorized this way, while 37.5% are less than 40 years of age.

Finally, for the last variable studied, the mode is “Lower 50%” of the SEI—with an SEI

score of 48.6 or below—with a percentage of 58.2% of all sample cases falling within this

category. The remaining 42.8% of respondents fell within the “Upper 50%” of the SEI

category.

Table 2: Chi-Square: Observed Values and Percentages Age Group by Sexual Orientation

Age

Less Than 40 40 or More Total

Sexual Orientation
32 26 58
Not Straight
55.2% 44.8% 3.2%
646 1103 1129
Straight
36.9% 63.1% 96.8%
58 1749 1807
Total
100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Chi-Square = 7.965*
df = 1
*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001

Table 2 demonstrates the findings of the Chi-Square Test of Independence utilizing

the age and sexual orientation variables. These data reveal a statistically significant

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relationship between these two variables. Thus, the null is rejected, and the research

hypothesis accepted: there is a significant relationship between a respondent’s sexual

orientation and their age. As evidenced in the above table, 55.2% of the “Not Straight”

respondents were less than 40-years-old at the time of the GSS 2010, while only 36.9% of the

“Straight” respondents were less than 40-years-old. As the test was conducted at the .05 level

of significance, there is 95% probability that the relationship is not due to chance. Therefore,

it was more likely for the non-heterosexually-identified respondents to be below the age of

40, and it was less likely for their heterosexual counterparts.

Table 3: Chi-Square: Observed Values and Percentages of Socioeconomic Index Score by
Sexual Orientation for those less than 40-years-old

Socioeconomic Index (SEI) Score

Sexual Orientation Lower 50% Upper 50% Total
16 16 32
Not Straight
50% 50% 4.72%
421 225 646
Straight
65.2% 34.8% 95.28%
437 241 678
Total
100% 100% 100%
Chi-Square = 3.063
df = 1
*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001

Table 3 represents the Chi-Square of Independence conducted on the SEI score for

the grouping of respondents by their reported sexual orientation for those less than 40-years-

old. While there is an even split of 50% of “Not Straight” respondents falling into both the

“Lower 50%” and the “Upper 50%” categories, the majority (65.2%) of the “Straight”

respondents are represented under the “Lower 50%” category. As the p-value for the test was

equal to .080, the data reveal there was no statistically significant relationship between the

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respondent’s SEI score falling in the 50% or below mark, or the above 50% mark and sexual

orientation for those under 40-years-old. Therefore, for those younger than 40-years-old, the

research hypothesis is rejected, and the null is accepted: there is no statistically significant

relationship between socioeconomic index score and sexual orientation for those less than

40-years-old.

Table 4: Chi-Square: Observed Values and Percentages of Socioeconomic Index Score by
Sexual Orientation for those 40-years-old or More.

Socioeconomic Index (SEI) Score

Sexual Orientation Lower 50% Upper 50% Total
6 20 26
Not Straight
23.1% 76.9% 2.3%
583 520 1103
Straight
52.9% 47.1% 97.7%
589 520 1129
Total
100% 100% 100%
Chi-Square = 9.027*
df=1
*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001

Table 4 illustrates the results of the Chi-Square Test of Independence utilizing the

SEI variable as grouped by the sexual orientation variable for those 40-years-old or more.

The “Upper 50%” of the SEI scores for those that identified as “Not Straight” comprised

76.9% of that category, as opposed to heterosexuals that only comprised 47.1% of the

category for their sexual orientation. The test meets the necessary level of significance with a

value equivalent to .030; therefore, there is a statistically significant relationship between

sexual orientation and SEI score for those 40-years-old or more. Thus, the null is rejected,

and the research hypothesis accepted. “Not Straight” respondents were more likely to score

in the “Upper 50%” of the SEI when 40-years-old or more than “Straight” respondents;

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conversely, “Straight” respondents were more likely to remain in the “Lower 50%” of the

SEI after reaching 40-years-old and beyond.

CONCLUSIONS

This research study focuses on the socioeconomic status of heterosexual respondents

versus that of self-identified non-heterosexual respondents; a subject of interest and social

importance, as it may reveal possible inequality. Previous research has revealed that

economic inequality may exist for the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community, including:

salary caps, job discrimination, and denial of access to a positive socially constructed

homosexual identity. This body of research also indicates that the economic condition of gay,

lesbian, and bisexual communities and individuals may be difficult to quantify due to

heteronormative demographic surveying techniques and procedures, as well as essentialist

views about homosexuality.

Analysis of the Chi-Square Tests of Independence on the 2010 GSS data supports the

previous demographical research; however, the research on job discrimination and the “gay

glass ceiling” cannot be definitively confirmed or denied by this study. It appears that

statistical analysis conducted on the above data, given the age, socioeconomic index score,

and sexual orientation variables, reveals that there is a statistically significant relationship

between sexual orientation and SEI score that occur at the age range of 40-years-old and

older—this statistically significant relationship is not established, according to the testing

conducted herein, before the age of 40. Furthermore, this research can support previous

research that has found that younger people may have a greater access to a gay, lesbian, or

bisexual identity, as there is a significant relationship between the age of the respondent and

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their sexual orientation, with non-heterosexual identifying individuals being more likely to be

younger than heterosexuals.

This study is valuable because of the unique, critical approach taken to previous

research, pitting preceding demographic research against more in-depth sociological research

examining economic discrimination that may be obscured by cultural factors present in the

gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. On the other hand, the weakness of this study may lie

in the bivariate approach, as opposed to multivariate analysis; for example, the diversity

present within the gay community may reveal differences between gay men and lesbians,

perhaps even between the groups and bisexuals and similarly between all groups and queer-

identified peoples. Other variables may also have influenced the results of this research.

Also, causation cannot be determined through the outcome and analysis of this study.

Furthermore, there are several factors that may interact and impact the socioeconomic

condition of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer community that the GSS may not be

sufficient in capturing, including: job discrimination (Tilesik 2011), discriminatory salary

caps such as those observed in the U.K. (Arabsheibani, Martin, and Wadsworth 2005), and

social power inequality between working-class homosexuals and those of higher economic

status enabling them to openly identify as non-heterosexual (Valocchi 1999). Finally, being a

survey, the GSS may be susceptible to survey bias.

Future research may seek to replicate this study with larger populations of

respondents that identify as non-heterosexual, as well as those that identify as

transgender/transsexual for more reliable analysis. Researchers utilizing the GSS would be

especially prudent to push for the adoption of quantifiable measures and differing approaches

to dealing with the socioeconomic status of non-heterosexuals versus heterosexuals, as there

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appear to significant differences between the conditions of these respective groups, as well as

outside factors that do not appear to be easily identifiable within the current variables.

Moreover, a better identification process for locating respondents that may have trouble

categorizing as non-heterosexual for fear of social ramifications would be helpful in

ascertaining the true economic picture of the homosexual community. For example,

surveyors may wish to omit the “Don’t Know” selection possibility for respondents and add a

“Questioning” category.

Nevertheless, future research on this subject matter should focus on the active causes

of this significant relationship between higher SEI score and identification as non-

heterosexual. More questions await future social researchers: Is there a gay glass ceiling?;

How does job discrimination affect economic status?; Do lesbians suffer from a double glass

ceiling for being both gay and women? In addition, are respondents more likely to withhold

their sexual orientation, or lie about it, to avoid socioeconomic ramifications? All the above

are questions appropriate for future studies.

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