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The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.
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(Photo: Lisa S./Shutterstock)

(Photo: Lisa S./Shutterstock)

With laws prohibiting same-sex marriage falling to court challenges on a weekly basis, it’s an exciting time for gay rights. But for gay men in America, there have traditionally been two different avenues of discrimination: The legal system, and by the economic system.

The good news is that things are looking up on that second front as well.

“We find evidence that, in the United States, the wage gap against gay men has significantly decreased over the last two decades,” economists Bruce Elmslie of the University of New Hampshire and Edinaldo Tebaldi of Bryant University write in the journal Kyklos.

"This study finds that gay men earn more than unmarried heterosexual men who cohabitate with a woman."

“We find no evidence of wage differentials in traditional blue-collar, male-documented occupations,” they write. “In comparing 13 occupational categories over the period from 2001 to 2011, a wage gap exists only in managerial, sales, and protective services occupations.”

Elmslie and Tebaldi used micro-data covering the years 1995 to 2001 from the March Supplement Current Population Survey, which is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

They identified homosexuals by restricting their study to "unrelated and unmarried same-sex partners cohabiting whose age is 25 years or older,” they write, “but excluding those individuals designated as roommates.”

They note they were guilty of “not properly excluding roommates” in a 2007 study which found there was indeed widespread discriminatory treatment against gay men in the marketplace (but not lesbians). These new figures presumably reflect both the fact they made that adjustment, and the ongoing rapid changes in the social environment.

Their new estimates show that the wage gap between married heterosexual men and gay men in the U.S. has shrunk considerably in recent years, from approximately eight percent in the late 1990s to 4.5 percent in the 2000s.

“This study finds that gay men earn more than unmarried heterosexual men who cohabitate with a woman,” they write. “These estimates support the view that the overall improvement in people’s perception regarding homosexuality has contributed to reduce the wage gap against gay men in the U.S.”

However, their results point to pockets where discrimination still exists. For one thing, they found “a significant wage gap against gay men in small cities and towns,” where social attitudes presumably take longer to change.

Moreover, they found a continuing wage differential of 11 and 16 percent between gay men and married straight men in management and sales positions.

This suggests some people are uncomfortable being managed by a gay male, or being served by a gay male as a customer. Or, perhaps, some employers who don’t realize attitudes have shifted hold onto outdated perceptions, and are hiring and promoting accordingly.

Nevertheless, the study presents welcome evidence that, for gay men, the economic landscape is changing along with the social one.