Poverty and sexual orientation

Gay men, together with bisexual men and women, are more likely to experience poverty than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a report from Essex University's Institute for Social and Economic Research.

The study (carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's anti-poverty strategies programme) reviews research evidence on the link between specific sexual orientations and poverty, and considers what should be included in anti-poverty strategies in relation to sexual orientation.

Key findings

  • There is a 'clear paucity of good research' in the UK on the subject. Nevertheless, the findings presented mostly corroborate parallel evidence from other countries.
  • Gay men are somewhat more likely to experience poverty than heterosexual men. They are more likely to be in receipt of income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit. There is some literature suggesting that gay men are over-represented among homeless populations. However, gay men have comparable earnings to heterosexual men, even though there is some evidence they trade off 'tolerant' occupations against higher pay. It is likely that gay elders experience significant social isolation; and when combined with less housing wealth, the risk of poverty in old age would seem much higher.
  • Lesbians are about as likely as heterosexual women to experience poverty. They are significantly more likely to participate in the labour market, and to obtain university degrees. There is a pay premium for lesbians, even when controlling for motherhood. These findings suggest that lesbian experience is less disadvantageous materially than that of gay men, at least compared with heterosexual women.
  • Bisexual men are almost four percentage points more likely to experience poverty than heterosexual men, and bisexual women are nearly three percentage points more likely to experience poverty than heterosexual women. These findings are not statistically significant in themselves: but they are corroborated by other evidence, such as the fact that bisexual men and women both suffer a pay penalty compared with heterosexual men and women.

The review concludes by highlighting a number of ways in which anti-poverty policies might fruitfully be modified, including in relation to the issues of homophobic bullying, homelessness, mental and physical health, and ageing and retirement.

Source: SC Noah Uhrig, An Examination of Poverty and Sexual Orientation in the UK, Working Paper 2014-02, Institute for Social and Economic Research (University of Essex)
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Publication date: 
Jan 15 2014