The LGBT Health & Development Program

Research Blog –The Myth of Gay Affluence


Posted on February 4th, 2015 by Greg in Featured, Research Blog. No Comments

Man in suit with a handful of cash

Image credit: TaxCredits, “Money in Hand,” March 2, 2012

What is the myth of gay affluence?

The myth of gay affluence is the persistent societal belief that gay men, on average, are wealthier and better educated than their straight peers [1]. This myth exists in stark contrast to the very real economic deficits that gay men face when compared to their straight counterparts.

Why does the myth persist?

It is difficult to say why this societal misconception has persisted. Two factors that likely contribute are the lack of demographic information on the gay community compared to other groups and the way the media portrays gay people. The U.S. Census Bureau did not start reporting numbers for same-sex married couples until 2010 and still does not include questions about sexual orientation. Compounding the issue of lack of data, the images of gay people presented in the media lack the diversity of the gay community. The gay characters on television, for instance, are less racially diverse and  more likely to be wealthy compared to the gay community in the real world. These skewed representations continue to sell the affluence myth. In addition, non-straight characters on television are more likely to be cisgender male, thereby giving less visibility to females and transgender individuals.

How does the myth affect gay people?

This myth may play a role in the lack of research addressing the effect of socioeconomic status on health disparities for gay individuals [2]. It has been used as an argument against laws that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation [3]. Heterosexual people who believe the myth of gay affluence are also less likely to support gay rights [4]. In essence, the misconception of gay affluence helps dissuade researchers from studying gay men in poverty and gives political cover to politicians who don’t want to help the gay community. All of this has implications for lesbians and bisexuals, as well, who may not be perceived as being more affluent than their straight counterparts, but may be negatively impacted by the discrimination and inequality that results from the myth of gay male affluence.

What is the reality of poverty and wealth in the gay community?

Data from the Williams Institute shows that the reality is a complex picture involving orientation, sex, community, education, and race.

  • Black same-sex couples are more likely to be in poverty than Black straight married couples.
  • Same-sex couples without high school diplomas are more likely to live in poverty than their straight married diploma-less counterparts.
  • Same-sex couples are also more likely to be on food stamps and receive cash assistance compared to heterosexual married couples.

How can we change the myth?

Future research should seek to expand our understanding of poverty in the gay community – and for lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. The more we know about what people are most at risk, the more we can help the community as a whole. Researchers should also look to how we can spread the word on what wealth and poverty really look like for gay men and dispel the myth of gay affluence.

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References:

[1] Badgett, M. V. L. (1998). Income inflation: The myth of affluence among gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, with The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Studies. Retrieved January 1, 2015, from http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/reports/IncomeInflationMyth.pdf.

[2] McGarrity, L. A. (2014). Socioeconomic status as context for minority stress and health disparities among lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Psychology Of Sexual Orientation And Gender Diversity, 1(4), 383-397. doi: 10.1037/sgd0000067

[3] Berg, N., & Lien, D. (2002). Measuring the effect of sexual orientation on income: Evidence of discrimination? Contemporary Economic Policy, 20, 394– 414. doi: 10.1093/cep/20.4.394

[4] Hettinger, V. E. & Vandello, J. A. (2014). Balance without equality: Just world beliefs, the gay affluence myth, and support for gay rights. Soc Just Res, 27, 444-463. doi: 10.1007/s11211-014-0226-2





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