Gay men may be paid less and lesbians paid more, studies show

The United States has dramatically shifted the law to permit same-sex marriage. But pay at work may not have kept pace with those changes, some studies show.
caption arrowCaption
The United States has dramatically shifted the law to permit same-sex marriage. But pay at work may not have kept pace with those changes, some studies show.

If you are a gay man, odds are you get paid less than your straight counterparts for the same work, according to several studies, including recent research.

But it’s a different story for non-heterosexual women.

Researchers have long examined pay differentials based on race and gender. But that sexuality field has been less extensively mined for data.

The first such study is now 21 years old (and the data is even older than that). It was done well before the United States legalized same-sex marriage, but apparently the sexuality playing field has not completely leveled since then, according to ongoing work cited in a piece on Thomson Reuters.

2015 analysis by a University of Washington professor found that on average, gay men earned 11 percent less than heterosexual men.

But that same researcher found that lesbians did not suffer the same kind of pay discrimination. In fact, analysis showed they earned 9 percent more than straight women.

As with much research, that word “average” can be misleading.

Among men, for example, the study showed a straight-gay pay gap ranging from 30 percent to zero.

A different study, done in 2009, found gay men earned 10 to 32 percent less.

And different studies turn up different results, according to a piece on the Thomson Reuters site called Quartz: some showed lesbians making 25 percent less than straight women. Some showed them making 43 percent more.

Which could mean that the studies are flawed. Or it could also mean that something besides a flat-out discrimination is at work.

For example, one 2008 study showed lesbians less likely to work part-time or to drop out of the labor force to raise children. That would, of course, have an impact on their career path and pay.

So researchers try to match similar situations. Reuters says a new British study found that "lesbians in a partnership earn more than heterosexual women in a partnership, controlling for education, location, and family structure — but that lesbians not in a relationship earn the same as straight women who are not in a relationship."

It could mean that people in the same household make different choices and that shows up in the varying pay.

The conclusions, Reuters adds, may also be shaded by who people are being compared to.

For instance, lesbians on average – even when making more than other women – are still paid less than heterosexual and gay men.

Also, studies in Britain — which has more national extensive anti-discrimination laws – may not fully reflect the U.S. situation.

In the United States, Reuters notes, “there is no federal law specifically against discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity, through 21 states do have state laws on the books.”

Workers can complain of discrimination based on sexual orientation to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the legal enforcement is weak.

About the Author

Editors' Picks