UMass Amherst Author Debunks Myth of Gay Affluence in New Book

AMHERST, Mass. - The widespread belief that lesbians and gay men are more affluent than the general population is a myth, says M.V. Lee Badgett, associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts and author of the new book "Money, Myths, and Change: The Economic Lives of Lesbians and Gay Men."

The economic reality, Badgett argues, is that gay and bisexual men earn between 17 and 28 percent less than similarly qualified straight men. Lesbians and bisexual women’s earnings are the same as those of heterosexual women, even though lesbians are less likely to interrupt a career to care for families and might be expected to earn more, she says.

Badgett’s findings contradict marketing studies conducted in the early 1990s that claimed gay people’s incomes exceed the national average – studies she says are skewed toward the affluent and well-educated. Badgett also says workplace discrimination against gay men and lesbians "is alive and well," and points out that the myth of gay affluence is often cited as an argument against tougher anti-discrimination laws.

Overall, Badgett says, "One of the main purposes of this book is to demonstrate that gay men’s and lesbian’s lives are characterized by economic disadvantage – not economic privilege." Using economic analysis, Badgett finds that gay men and lesbians aren’t protected from discrimination by staying in the closet and they don’t consume more conspicuously, or enjoy a more hedonistic, self-indulgent lifestyle.

"I analyzed the best available statistical data to get a sense of how gay men and lesbians are economically situated," Badgett says. "And understanding the economic position of gay people in the workplace and in families required me to think through the ways that laws, public attitudes, and collective action influence markets and economic decision-making. In the workplace and consumer marketplace, for instance, anti-gay attitudes create discrimination. In family situations, laws prohibiting marriage of same-sex couples create economic disadvantages and hinder gay people’s pursuit of security for themselves and their children."

Badgett also looks at how corporations and businesses deal with issues of sexual identity. The relative advantages offered to heterosexual couples regarding health insurance, tax benefits, and child care are most often denied to same-sex couples, creating economic and social disadvantages, she argues. When domestic partner benefits are offered, however, objections about cost, availability, or devaluation of traditional heterosexual family structures aren’t borne out by the experiences of employers, Badgett says.