Decades of wage disparities between gay and straight men could be melting away, research shows; here’s why
For gay men, years of struggle are finally paying off.
For the first time ever, gay men are earning more than straight men — by as much as 10% — according to the Harvard Business Review.
Indeed, using a major federal survey of U.S. workers, the researchers found “that the gay male earnings penalty had disappeared. And not only had it disappeared, it had turned into a 10% premium, meaning that gay men in recent years earned substantially more than straight men with similar education, experience, and job profiles.”
Historically, gay men’s earnings have lagged behind straight men’s. ”If you compare the earnings of two men with similar education profiles, years of experience, skills, and job responsibilities, gay men consistently earn less than straight men (between 5% and 10% less),” Vanderbilt professor of women’s and gender studies Kitt Carpenter wrote in an HBR paper published Monday. “One interpretation of the literature’s near-universal prior finding of a gay male earnings penalty was that it was a consequence of labor market discrimination against gay men,” Carpenter opined.
But now, he says homosexuality has become more acceptable in the public discourse — he cites Pew Research Foundation data finding that 92% of LGBTQ adults “feel that society is more accepting of them than a decade ago,” and LGBTQ men and women have made strides on television (à la “Will & Grace”) and at high corporate echelons (such as openly gay Apple CEO Tim Cook). Finally, the researchers say, things are changing.
To explain why gay men in the US have outpaced straight men in the earnings category in recent years, Carpenter wrote that, “our recent research study likely raises more questions than it answers.” But, he suggests a couple possible explanations:
“It Gets Better:” Hearkening back to Dan Savage’s 2010 effort to reduce suicide among LGBT youth, the researchers say that society’s attitudes toward LGBTQ people are evolving. Moreover, a greater number of adults today know an LGBTQ person firsthand (87% today, versus 61% in 1993, according to Pew Research), so it’s a more commonplace phenomenon.
But, Carpenter found a caveat with this: “One is that while ‘It Gets Better’ seems reasonable for explaining the gradual disappearance of an earnings penalty, it does not seem well suited for explaining the emergence of an earnings premium (did it really get that much better?).”
- Family dynamics: “A gay male couple who gets married may have one partner select out of the workforce to focus on caregiving responsibilities; this might make the other partner more productive at work, resulting in relative improvements in gay men’s earnings relative to those of straight men,” Carpenter wrote.
Carpenter’s findings echo past research which has found that lesbian women frequently earn more than straight women. “In a survey of 29 studies published in January 25, Marieka Klawitter of the University of Washington found an average earnings premium of 9% for lesbians over heterosexual women…” The Economist explained in an article last year.
At the time, The Economist attributed lesbians’ higher earning capacity to simply not facing quite as much discrimination in the workplace as heterosexual women, and the stigmatic notion that lesbian women are “more competitive and more committed to work than their straight female colleagues.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved