That was just one of the surprising findings based on the largest number of survey responses from LGBT men and women ever collected. The Gallup results both confirm and call into question earlier studies. Among the results that differ from previous research:
- LGBT Americans are more likely to be people of color (33%) than are straight Americans (27%);
- Of men between 18 and 29 years old, black men were 56% more likely than white men to self-identify as GBT and Hispanic men, 49% more likely;
- LBT women are as likely to have a child under 18 in the home as straight women (32% for both groups); and
- The percentages of LGBT persons with college degrees (2.8%) or post-graduate education (3.2%) are lower than their percentage in the population as a whole (3.4%).
In addition, the study found a perhaps not unexpected, but dramatic, age gap: persons aged 18 to 29 are more than three times as likely (6.4%) to self-identify as LGBT as persons aged 65 and older (1.9%). Also consistent with earlier research, Gallup found that LGBT Americans tend to be less, rather than more, affluent than straights: a higher percentage of LGBT persons (35%) have incomes lower than $24,000 a year than the percentage of the overall population (24%). It had been thought that LGBT persons had lower incomes but also higher average levels of education than non-LGBT persons; this paradox is now in doubt.
Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, who has written many of the earlier studies and also co-authored the analysis of the Gallup results, said that the new data “will dramatically increase our understanding of the lives and views of LGBT Americans.” Much prior research has been based on Census data, which consists of information about households. The Gallup data was collected from individuals.
It bears stressing that the 3.4% overall LGBT portion of the population represents those who self-identify as LGBT. This was not a survey of sexual behaviors, which typically find that larger percentages (around 6%) of Americans have engaged in same-sex sexual behaviors. Gates and other demographers have stressed the importance of measuring those who self-identify as LGBT because of the political and cultural impact of persons who make their sexual orientation known to others.
There has been less reporting of the Williams-Gallup study in the mass media than it merits, perhaps because its findings were released on the same day that the Second Circuit announced its opinion in Windsor. (An exception is Charles Blow.) The news reports that did appear tended to stress the 3.4% overall number or the data showing that 71% of LGBT voters prefer Obama to Romney and that LGBT voters are twice as likely (45%) to self-describe as liberal than non-LGBT voters (23%). (Voter preference data was contained in a separate report.)
Additional demographic analyses of the LGBT population data gathered by Gallup are planned. The impact of this new body of data on social science research about sexual orientation could be enormous.