Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community

In what appears to be the first-ever quantitative analysis of poverty rates within the lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) community, a March 2009 report from The Williams Institute at UCLA has found that lesbian couples are more likely to be poor than heterosexual married couples or gay male couples. The study found that employment discrimination, inability to marry, and lack of access to health insurance all play a role in contributing to higher rates of poverty.

In order to garner information on sexual orientation and rates of poverty, the report uses data from a combination of sources, including the US Census, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), and the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). In order to distinguish LGB individuals, the study used Census data in which an individual could self-identify as living with an “unmarried partner,” and the gender composition of the couple was then identified as lesbian or gay male. This method of identifying household type leads to under-sampling since it neglects LGB singles and those not cohabitating, but was necessary given the absence of questions regarding sexual orientation in the Census. Since there is no transgender information in any of these surveys, this segment of the population is not represented in the study.

The study finds that lesbian couples are more likely to be below the federal poverty line (FPL) than heterosexual married couples, while gay male couples actually see less incidence of poverty. Analyzing those below 200% of the FPL, described as low income, the study found that one in five lesbian and heterosexual married couples are low income, as compared to only one in 10 gay male couples. In fact, gender is always a major factor influencing poverty; lesbian couples and married households with one woman are more likely to experience poverty than gay male couples.

The study also finds that African-Americans in same-sex couples have significantly higher poverty rates than African-American heterosexual married couples.

Geography also affects the incidence of LGB poverty, with same-sex couples in rural areas experiencing twice the poverty rate as same-sex couples living in metropolitan areas. Furthermore, despite the small sample of LGB couples with children, the study finds that one in five children in LGB households experience poverty, compared to one in 10 children from heterosexual married couples.

The report, Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community can be found here: http://repositories.cdlib.org/uclalaw/williams/albelda/.