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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Study Finds U.S. Sexual Minorities Poorer Than Straight Peers

Sexual minorities in the United States are poorer than are their straight peers, and the income gap is even wider among women, according to research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community.

Study co-authors, all faculty members in the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health’s department of maternal and child health, include Dr. Kerith Conron, adjunct associate professor, Dr. Shoshana Goldberg, assistant professor, and Dr. Carolyn Halpern, professor and chair.

Socioeconomic status is a key aspect of health and well-being across the life course, but often, it is viewed only as a statistic rather than as a potentially modifiable factor in the poorer health experienced by sexual minorities, say the researchers.

To address this, they drew on data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The study, which began in 1994, has been tracking the long-term health of nearly 21,000 teens in grades 7-12 at the time. The current study focused on what had happened to 14,051 of these teens by the time they were ages 24-34 in 2008-2009.

Most of these participants (93 percent) were straight, but of the 7 percent who identified themselves as being other than 100 percent heterosexual (including bisexual, mostly homosexual, and 100 percent homosexual), more of these were women – 761 (10.5 percent) vs. 295 (just over 4 percent). Sexual minority women were less likely to graduate from college, and more likely to be poor/nearly poor than were their straight peers, after taking account of potentially influential factors.

They also were more likely to be enduring economic hardship, to be in receipt of welfare payments/food stamps, and to feel that they had lower social status.
Many of these differences lessened, however, when educational attainment was factored in, “suggesting that promoting the achievement of sexual minority girls and young women may serve to reduce economic inequalities,” the authors wrote.

Sexual minority men were more likely than their straight peers to have a college education, but even so, they earned less and were more likely to report economic hardship in the preceding year than did their straight peers.“This pattern,” the authors wrote, “suggests that sexual minority males experience wage discrimination.”

Both sexual minority men and women were less likely to be homeowners, and this was particularly true for sexual minority women of black, Asian and Hispanic ethnicity. Among men, the picture was more mixed, as sexual minority men of black, Asian or Hispanic ethnicity were better off than were their white peers, but white sexual minority men were less likely than their straight peers to be among the highest earners.

This is an observational study, and as such, can’t prove causality, the authors note, saying that further research is warranted. “However,” they say, “the findings indicate that poverty, with accompanying economic strain, is an unappreciated ‘sexual minority’ issue for women. [Socioeconomic status] should be considered an important pathway through which sexual orientation health inequalities are generated.”

Dr. Conron also is Blachford-Cooper Distinguished Scholar and research director at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute.

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[Photo: Dr. Shoshana Goldberg (left) and Dr. Carolyn Halpern (right)]
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