Investigating the size and composition of the LGBT community

WaveDo you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?

When Gallup asked 121,290 interviewees that question in their daily tracking poll between June 1 and September 30, 3.4% so identified, while 4.4% refused to answer or said they did not know. Thus 92.2% identified as heterosexual and cisgendered.

The research was performed by Gary Gates of the Williams Institute and Frank Newport, Gallup Editor in Chief.

This is the largest single study of the distribution of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population in the U.S. on record.


Except…you know…is is not a distribution study, but a population study. Gallup did not ask respondents to indicate which of L, G, B, or T they were. They said it would be too expensive(?) to add that question.

I go into the data in more depth on the flip.

It is likely, of course, that many people withheld their sexual orientation and gender identity from Gallup. Gallup chooses to call this being in the closet. Some people would call it refusing to participate in a rather personal thing for a stranger to ask.

Indeed the Gallup report includes the caveat:

Measuring sexual orientation and gender identity can be challenging since these concepts involve complex social and cultural patterns. As a group still subject to social stigma, many of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may not be forthcoming about this identity when asked about it in a survey. Therefore, it's likely that some Americans in what is commonly referred to as "the closet" would not be included in the estimates derived from the Gallup interviews. Thus, the 3.4% estimate can best be represented as adult Americans who publicly identify themselves as part of the LGBT community when asked in a survey context.

So the 3.4% represents a bare minimum of the size of the LGBT population.

Other questions which were asked allow some breakdown of the data. 4.6% of blsck respondents identified as LGBT, as did 4.3% of Asian respondents and 4.0% of Hispanic respondents. Only 3.2% of non-Hispanic white respondents identified as being LGBT.

So that bit about queer being a "white thing"? Blown the hell out of the water.

One should note, in addition, that higher percentages of Hispanic and Black respondents were in the Don't Know/Refuse category, at 5.8% and 5.3%, respectively, than the Asians (3.7%) and the non-Hispanic whites (2.8%).

If you take Yes and add it to DK/Refuse, Blacks would be at 9.9% and Hispanics at 9.8%, Asians 8.0% and non-Hispanic whites at 6.0%. Those fist two numbers put me in mind of the old "1 in 10" mantra that has its origins in the 1948 Kinsey Report.

One third of respondents who identified as LGBT were non-white. 27% of non-LGBT participants in the survey were non-white.

3.6% of women respondents identified as LGBT, as compared to 3.3% of men. Thus 53% of people who identified as LGBT were women. 4.6% of women were in the DK/Ref category, compared to 4.2% of men.

Respondents aged 18 to 29 identified as LGBT 6.4% of the time, whereas seniors (65+) only identified as LGBT at a rate of 1.9%. 3.2% of respondents aged 30-49 identified as LGBT as did 2.6% of those aged 50-64.

6.5% of seniors were in the DK/Refused category. By age 65, you would think they would know, so it is quite likely they refused to identify. One has to wonder, though, since "No" was always a possible choice. 4.3% of those 50-64 were DK/Refused, as were 3.2% of those 30-49 and 3.5% of those 18-29. One might opine that it is more likely for younger people to be in the space of "Don't Know" as opposed to refusing to answer.

When one zeroes in on the 18-29-year olds, one finds that 8.3% of women so aged identify with being LGBT, while 3.8% are DK/Refused, and 4.6% of men in that age group identify as LGBT, with 3.3% in DK/Refused.

Gallup notes that younger Americans are more accepting of equal rights and opportunities for gay men and lesbians.

Identification as LGBT is highest among those who had some college, but did not graduate at 4.0% (2.8% DK/R) and those with only a high school diploma or lesser education at 3.5% (6.3% DK/R), while those with a postgraduate education came in at 3.2% (2.3% DK/R) and those whose college degree was terminal at 2.8% (2.6% DK/R).

Income had a similar distribution. 5.1% of those earning less than $24K identified as LGBT (2.7% DK/R), as did 3.6% of those making $24K-$60K (1.3% DK/R) and 2.8% of those earning between $60K and $90K (0.7% DK/Ref) Of those making $90K+, only 2.8% identified as LGBT (0.8% DK/R).

16% of all LGBT respondents reported incomes larger that $90K, compared with 21% of the overall adult population. 35% of LGBT identifiers reported incomes of less than $24K, compared with 24% of the general population. Down with the myth of gay wealth.

It is also the case that while LGBT identifiers are less satisfied with their standard of living (65% compared with 73% of non-LGBT people), we are more optimistic about the future (59%, compared to 49% of non-LGBT people).

1.3% (3.7% DK/R) of married respondents reported being LGBT as did 7.0% (3.6% DK/R) of those who reported being single (never married), 12.8% (3.9% DK/R) of those in a domestic partnership or living with a partner, 2.8% (4.1% DK/R) of those divorced, 3.7% (5.1% DK/R) of those separated and 1.9% of those widowed (7.6% DK/R).

Aggregating from a different perspective, 20% of LGBT respondents indicated they were married, and 18% were in a domestic partnership or living with a partner, while 48% were single and had never been married. Among non-LGBT Americans, 54% are married, 4% are living with a partner, and 23% are single and have never been married.

The gender of a spouse was not asked.

LGBT identification among Americans with children under 18 in their homes is only at 2.7% (3.7% DK/R), while it is at 3.9% of people with no child under 18 in the home. That's 3.6% of women being LGBT with a child under 18 in the home and 1.8% of men with a child under 18 in the home. 3.6% of women with no child under 18 in the home identify as LGBT, as do 4.2% of men.

32% of LGBT women have children under 18 in the home, which compares to 32% of non-LGBT women. Only 16% of LGBT men have a child under 18 in the home, as compared to 31% of non-LGBT men. 41% of Hispanic and African-American LGBT and 38% of Asian LGBT women are raising children, as compared to 28% of white LGBT women. 10% of white LGBT men are raising children, as compared to 39% of LGBT Hispanic men, 31% of LGBT Asian men, and 14% of LGBT African-American men. Non-LGBT men are more likely to be raising children.

LGBT identification is highest in the East at 3.7% (4.5% DK/R), followed by the West at 3.6% (3.7% DK/R), 3.4% in the Midwest (4.4% DK/R), and 3.2% in the South (4.8% DK/R).

Contemporary media often think of LGBT people as disproportionately white, male, urban and pretty wealthy. But this data reveal that relative to the general population, the LGBT population has a larger proportion of nonwhite people and clearly is not overly wealthy.

--Gary Gates

Charles Blow, over at the NYTimes, expressed his confusion about the data and offered some thoughts: Shades of Gay.

Could it be that outreach programs on H.I.V. and AIDS are better at reaching young people of color? Could it be a new level of openness among celebrities and acceptance by politicians? Could it be that some men of color have less at stake financially that could be jeopardized by identifying as gay than their white counterparts?


Other responses to the study are available at The Grio, Patheos, The Slatest, The Huffington Post and George Curry at the Pittsburgh Courier.




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The DK/R

type1error's picture

Without seeing the questions and the methodology, I can see those respondents falling into one of a few categories:
1) Genuinely unsure -- still trying to sort out their feelings
2) Angered by the question -- remember the people who got ticked off when the census was going to ask the LGBT question?
3) In the closet -- though I suspect that many people in the closet would assert heterosexuality/cisgender rather than refuse to answer
4) Confused by the question -- maybe some older people were confused by the question wording? If this was a telephone interview, the interviewer could clarify, but I wonder if some people would refuse rather than say, "I don't understand."

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Family size?

type1error's picture

I have one interesting hypothesis for why the proportion of LGBTs is smaller among whites. One theory of male homosexuality suggests that the mothers hormones attack the male fetus in utero. That theory is mentioned in better detail in this video:

Having older brothers increases the odds that a boy is gay. What does this have to do with race? Well, demographics tell us that whites have fewer children than non-whites. That means that white boys are less like to have older brothers. If larger families are more likely to produce gay boys than smaller families, maybe non-whites, because they tend to have larger families, are more likely to produce gay sons.

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other countries

sartoris's picture

Have you done any research to see what percentages are reported in other countries? The percentages should be virtually identical from nation to nation. There is no reason to believe that India would be different than Estonia. Are you aware of any population percentages in other countries?

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that's a different subject

sartoris's picture

I'm not talking about who would come out and say they are, I'm talking about what percentage of the population is in fact of a specific sexual orientation. It should not matter if a man lives in Iran or New Zealand. Statistically, the population would deliver the same percentages. I completely agree that a person in Mali would fear coming out more than a person in Canada. I'm merely wondering if there have been studies in other countries and what their numbers revealed. Turns out that there have been studies conducted in Britian and New Zealand. They both came out with roughly equal percentages.

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I don't think that's accurate

sartoris's picture

Hijra is an extremely low part of the social order in India/Pakistan/Punjab, The fact that they exist does not in itself mean that those countries have a higher percentage of people identifying in any one particular sexual orientation. India is a country of a billion people and the Hijra is remarkably small. My original point is that if the Gallup poll was compared to other known studies conducted by other countries, the percentages should match up.

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