Williams Institute study documents the complexity of sexual identity in first report from major new data source

by on October 12, 2010  •  In Culture, Social science

The Williams Institute has published a study based on data obtained when the General Social Survey (GSS) – the gold standard for private survey data in the U.S. – included questions about sexual identity. The GSS data show that twice as many Americans have had adult same-sex sexual experiences as the number who identify as LGB: only 3% of adults identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB), but an additional 6% have had same-sex sexual partners since age 18.

Or, as stated in the executive summary, "more than two thirds of sexual minorities self identify as heterosexual."

What is most significant about this study is that respondents were asked about self-identity in addition to behaviors. Prior GSS surveys had asked only about behaviors. According to study author Gary Gates,“These provocative findings demonstrate the challenge in understanding the complex relationship between sexual orientation identity and behavior."

The report is the first in a series that Gates will publish on results from the 2008 GSS. In addition to including the first questions about sexual orientation, the 2008  survey added a new module of questions  (with  the  financial  support  of  the  Williams  Institute)  directed  at  sexual  minorities  that  ask  about  the  experience  of  coming  out,  relationship  status  and family structure, workplace and housing discrimination, and health insurance coverage. The GSS is large enough to be statistically  representative  of  the  US  population.     

Other findings included in this first report:

  • Although 90% of LGB people are out about their identity to other people, only 25% report being out to all of their coworkers in the workplace.
  • 1.7% of adults self-identified as gay or lesbian and 1.1% self-identified as bisexual
  •  More than 3 in 4 lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) adults say that they were first attracted to someone of the same-sex before they were 18 years old.
  •  Women are more likely than men to be LGB (4.6% vs. 2.9%). They are twice as likely to be bisexual than men (1.9% v. 0.7%, respectively).
  •  Younger people are more likely to be LGB. 7.2% of those aged 18-30 are LGB compared with 3.8% of those aged 30-54 and 1.4% of those aged 55 and older.
  • Older people are much more likely to be in the closet . Adults over the age of 55 are 83 times more likely than those under 30 to have never come out to another person.
  •  Bisexuals are more likely to be a racial/ethnic minority than heterosexuals, gay men, or lesbians. 


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