Why Do Lesbians Earn More than Straight and Bisexual Women

suze orman lesbians moneyA study done by New York University published this year (2016) found that employers were significantly less likely to call back female applicants with a LGBT identifier on their resume. Since work is a core part of our lives and necessary for most people’s survival, lets take a look at what lesbians (and bisexuals) are going through out their in the world that puts food on our plates. What do studies on discrimination of lesbians and bisexual women say? Why do multiple studies indicate lesbians make more money than straight women? Why have recent studies indicated bisexual woman have higher rates of poverty? Why isn’t the ‘lesbian wage premium” true for African American and Hispanic women? And aren’t there some things for lesbians to feel frustrated by but also proud of. Because in spite of proven discrimination, many are doing well? Most of this data is from Western countries.

Studies Showing Lesbians and/or Bisexual Women are Discriminated Against in Hiring

  • A New York University study in 2016 demonstrated queer women were 32.5% less likely to receive a call back if they indicated a leadership position at a campus LGBT group versus “another progressive student organization.”
  • A similar study by Anglia Ruskin University in Britain showed the call back rate was 5% less, not as dramatic as the New York University study. This study also showed a sex role stereotype bias. It found that gay men were less likely to receive a call back in male-dominated occupations and lesbians in female-dominated occupations.
  • In 2014, a study commissioned by The World Bank and IZA World of Labor (a global survey) showed gay men and lesbians report greater levels of harassment and unfair treatment. It also found more positive impacts of being out at work in terms of higher job satisfaction. But overall gay men and lesbians had lower job satisfaction versus heterosexuals.
  • Another resume audit study in 2013 by Baily et al. showed no discrimination of lesbian and gay applicants. But the study was confined to Careerbuilder (uses large international firms) and was confined to liberal metropolitan areas. So this seems to be good news for LGB people applying for jobs in liberal cities with big companies. But the NYU study didn’t find the call back rates to always be better in liberal areas. So this may be an anomaly.
  • According to Forbes magazine, in a survey by Stonewall “Only 27% of LGBT people felt comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to all colleagues and customers. Figures were lower for lesbians than gay men and considerably lower for bi individuals (12%).” It also found, “52% of women aged 28 to 40 had experienced bullying and harassment at work in the last three years but this rose to 61% of bisexual women.”
  • Canadian study determined that even when controlling for factors like hours, job type, and education level, “gay men still earn about 5% less than heterosexual males, lesbians earn 9%s less than straight men, and straight women are the most impacted, earning only 74% of a straight man’s dollar.”
  • In a Williams Institute study, 7.6% of lesbian couples live below the poverty line, as opposed to the 5.7% of heterosexual couples in poverty.

Recent Studies Show Bisexual Men and Women Have Higher Poverty Rates

There are some studies that have been done recently that have shown bisexual women earn less money than straight or lesbian women. Pink News sums up one Rice University study here.

25% of straight men and 30% of straight women were living in poverty, compared with 23% of gay men, and 25% of lesbian women. However, 40% of bisexual men and 42% of bisexual women were living below the poverty line.” These results are odd and I would consider this study a possible outlier because heterosexual men make more money and most bisexuals are in heterosexual relationships. But other studies show the same thing.

According to Glaad.org,

“one study of California data was striking, though: it found that while gay men earned 2-3% less than straight men and lesbians 2.7% less, bisexual men earned 10-15% less and bisexual women nearly 11% less.” And a Williams Institute study found that 2 surveys they reviewed (the 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview Surveys), found that bisexual women are more than twice as likely as lesbians to live in poverty (17.7% compared to 7.8%), and bisexual men are over 50% more likely to live in poverty than gay men (9.7% compared to 6.2%).”

There is another study of bisexual women that draws similar conclusions about income level. I suspect there are a lot of anti-bisexual assumption in this study in 2015 by McClintock, and talk about that here. But it does show more bisexual women living in low-income situations. I have no explanation for these results. Recent studies on bisexuals show higher rates of poverty, abuse, and mental health issues. LGBT people can’t all be lumped together in these studies, as circumstances for each group are different. And It looks like higher rates of being in the closet and minority stress due to not fitting in the gay or straight community is having negative impacts on bisexual mental health. Or there may be some other unknown factors. And the previously cited Stonewall survey showed they experienced slightly higher levels of work discrimination than lesbians. So being open about bisexuality at work leaves you just as open to discrimination, possibly even more so, than a gay or lesbian identity.

Studies Showing Lesbians Earn Significantly More than Straight Women

  • The Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey found lesbians earning significantly more than straight women. The 2012 survey of over 10,000 people showed lesbians earn 33% more than heterosexual women.
  • The study commissioned by World Bank and IZA World of Labor that showed gay men and lesbians face increased job discrimination and lower job satisfaction, also showed that on average globally, lesbians are paid 12% more than other women. Gay men earned 9% less than straight men.
  • A 2009 study in Industrial Relations reviewed 29 studies and concluded lesbians earn 9% more than straight women. It also put gay women’s earnings at 6% more than straight women’s when all other factors were taken into account. So even if education, job choice, and children are factored in, lesbians still earn more than straight women.
  • The studies above all show lesbians earning more than straight women. However, it is important to note this may only be true for white/Asian western women. One study in the US by the Williams Institute stated,”African-Americans in same-sex couples have poverty rates at least twice the rate for different-sex married African-Americans. African-American men in same-sex couples are more than six times more likely to be poor than White men in same-sex couples, and African-American women with female partners are three times more likely to be poor than are White women with female partners. The difference in poverty rates for black and white couples is disproportionately higher in same-sex compared to different-sex couples.” From the Center for American Progress website, “The average Latina lesbian couple earns $3,000 less than Latino opposite-sex couples. Black lesbian couples face an even greater economic disparity earning $10,000 less than black same-sex male couples. Black same-sex couples significantly lag behind white same-sex couples with median incomes of $41,500 compared to $63,500.” And “An estimated 2 million children are being raised in gay, lesbian, and transgender families who tend to be more racially and ethnically diverse. In fact 46.7% of black lesbian couples and 41.5% of Latina lesbian couples are raising children compared to 23.1% of white lesbian couples.” This issue needs its own post.

Why Do Lesbians Earn More than Straight Women Even When Controls are Applied


  • Lesbians tend to have more education. (World Bank and IZA World of Labor study, Waite and Denier)
  • Lesbians work longer hours (Lesbians work about 20% more hours than straight women according to the World Bank and IZA World of Labor study).
  • Lesbian are over represented in male dominated and other higher paying fields (The World Bank and IZA World of Labor study and Sexual Orientation and Gender Typicality of the Occupation in Young Adulthood by Ueno and Roach)
  • Lesbians are less likely to have children allowing them to focus more on their careers.  (The HILDA Survey in Australia has the percentages at 22% versus 59%).
  • Men have a drag on women’s earnings. Proof? Lesbians who had been previously married to men earned more than straight women. But less than lesbians who never married men. And heterosexual women that don’t have children also make less money than lesbians with or without children.
  • Lesbians who have partners make more money according to The World Bank and IZA World of Labor study. So either a stable relationship has a positive affect on earnings, or people who are the types to be in long-term partnerships tend to make more money.
  • Lesbians with children are highly motivated to make more money and/or lesbians with more money are more likely to have children. “Research by Amanda Baumle (2009) revealed that while straight women with children earn from about 2- to 4-% less than straight women without children did, lesbians with children earn about 20-% more than lesbians without children did.”


  • Nick Drydakis who headed the World Bank Study had several.
  1. He attributes the earnings premium to decisions lesbians make. Because lesbians do not want to marry men and know they will have to depend on themselves and the salary of another woman, they invest more time and effort into their career paths. They study more, work harder, and for longer hours.
  2. He says, “The higher salaries among lesbians in some countries may reflect discrimination in favour of masculine traits rather than against them.” Which is an interesting take. Some people may be offended by the lesbian as masculine stereotype, but I personally don’t find making speculations about personality traits offensive. But what is a “masculine trait?” A no-nonsense butch or a lipstick power lesbian? Regardless, this supposed discrimination in favor of “masculine traits” is clearly offset by discrimination they face.
  3. Employers are more likely to promote lesbians because they see them as less likely to have children. “This might make employers more interested in promoting lesbians, who are less likely to move in and out of the labor market.” Again, even if this is true, this benefit hardly makes up for the clear statistical disadvantages lesbians have in hiring and on the job discrimination.
  • Here is an interesting biological theory on the blog Offsetting Behavior, on testosterone and negotiation strategies. “Women, on average, are less aggressive in wage negotiations. If testosterone correlates with aggressiveness in salary negotiations, and some evidence suggests higher than average testosterone levels among lesbians as compared to heterosexual women (though that evidence is contested), then we’ve another candidate explanation.” Arguments around biological determinism offend some people but not me if it is supported by facts. But I find this to be a stretch. I have not found studies on testosterone and lesbians to be consistent at this point. Also, males right out of college tend to make the same as females and the gap only widens later, according to Claudia Goldin. This seems to disprove the testosterone/negotiation theory.
  • It boils down to gender role stereotypes according to the Huffington Post, “It is this same gender-role-based sexism that leads to advantages for men and lesbians, albeit for different reasons. As reported by Correll et al. (2007), men are seen as more committed once they become fathers, presumably because they are going to take work more seriously to care for their family. It is important to note that the effect for men can be explained entirely by gender role stereotypes as opposed to sexual orientation, as Baumle (2009) found that salaries for both straight men with children and gay men with children are about 7- to 16-% higher than for non-fathers.”
  • This explanation in the Atlantic article Unequal Pay: The Gay Wage Gap says it boils down to dollar signs. “That because men earn more money than women, gay men with partners who also work can count on having two sizable paychecks coming into their household. For this reason, they don’t feel the need to push as hard to make more money, so, on average, they make less than straight men. For lesbians, it’s the reverse: They might be compensating for having two female breadwinners by striving for higher earnings.”

Legal Situation

  • According to the Human Rights Campaign “it is legal in 27 states to differentially compensate, not hire, not promote, or fire a nonfederal worker because of his or her sexual orientation and in 30 states to do so because of a person’s gender identity.”
  • The Federal Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the protections that already exist based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, won’t pass anytime soon due to Republican opposition.

Lesbians Deserve Some Credit Here

Lesbians and gays provide an interesting angle to the discussion about men’s and women’s wages as they are outside of the dominant, heterosexual model. The bad news is that there clearly is discrimination against lesbians in the workplace. The reality is that lesbians would likely be doing even better if this were not the case. Also black and Latina lesbians are much more likely to be poor and much more likely to be raising children than white and Asian lesbians. But through resilience, hard work, and just bottom line necessity, many lesbians are overcoming sexism and anti-lesbian biases and are succeeding.

Also can we stop overgeneralizing about gay men as always being cohorts in promoting the patriarchy. Joe Clark does a great job of dispelling the myth of the wealthy white gay man as privileged oppressor here. Gay men are clearly discriminated against in the world in general and the work force. Joe Clark’s website also has good information on lesbians and work.

Originally Posted 03/10/2016

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