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Gay and Poor: Study Indicates Gay Couples More Likely to Live in Poverty

By L. K. Regan

Two men, a modern loft, designer furniture, fine wine, pricey art. Is this not the stereotype of the gay household? You may know them as "dinks": double income, no kids. They are a familiar media image and, according to a new study of gay households, a largely mythical one as well. Turns out that not only is there no overall financial advantage to being gay, discrimination is holding many gay households back from the American dream.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law conducted a study of gay households using the 2000 Census, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and the 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview Surveys. Their research, released this week, found a number of counter-intuitive effects. Far from affirming the media-constructed ideal of a gay lifestyle, in fact, the study reports, "The myth of gay and lesbian affluence is just that—a myth. Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are as likely to be poor as are heterosexuals, while gay and lesbian couple households, after adjusting for the factors that help explain poverty, are more likely to be poor than married heterosexual couple households." In short, according to study author M.V. Lee Badgett, "The report highlights a significant segment of the poor and low-income population that has largely been ignored. The data clearly undermine the persistent myth that the gay community is monolithically affluent. As a group, quite the contrary is true."

Here are a few of the depressing effects that the study uncovered:

  1. In general, same-sex households are poorer. Once the researchers adjusted for other factors that cause poverty, they found that overall, "gay and lesbian couple families are significantly more likely to be poor than are heterosexual married couple families."
  2. Among those same-sex households, lesbians were the worst off. In fact, the survey says, "In general, lesbian couples have much higher poverty rates than either different-sex couples or gay male couples." And this effect is worst for older lesbians: "Lesbians who are 65 or older are twice as likely to be poor as heterosexual married couples. "
  3. Likewise, African-American couples found themselves particularly impacted. "African-Americans in same-sex couples have poverty rates that are significantly higher than black people in different-sex married couples," the study authors write.
  4. Living in a rural area was also a predictor of lower incomes. According to the study report, "People in same-sex couples who live in rural areas have poverty rates that are twice as high as same-sex couples who live in large metropolitan areas."
  5. The problems of poverty for gay and lesbian couples are passed on to the next generation as well. Though they are less likely to have children in their homes, the study found that, "Poverty rates for children of same-sex couples are twice as high as poverty rates for children of married couples.
In other words, all of the things that cause lower incomes in general—gender, race, geographical location—will cause problems for gay couples. But, as the study authors point out, being in a gay couple comes with additional burdens. As the report firmly states, "Employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage, and a greater likelihood of being uninsured exacerbate poverty among LGB people."

Any good news? Gay non-African-American men who do not live in rural areas, who do not have either partner out of work, and who do not have children living at home, are actually slightly less likely to be poor than heterosexual couples. From this small sector of the LGBT community comes the entire myth of the "dink". Seems like maybe it's time to put it to rest.