Gay and Lesbian Couples Are Poorer Than Straight Ones

Gay and lesbian Americans are often portrayed and stereotyped as disproportionately affluent, but it’s more likely that relatively affluent gay people are simply more visible. A new report by V. Lee Badgett, Laura E. Durso, and Alyssa Schneebaum for the Williams Institute at UCLA shows that in many respects LGBT couples are actually more economically stressed than their straight counterparts. 

A few striking findings:

—In the American Community Survey, 7.6 percent of lesbian couples, compared with 5.7 percent of married different-sex couples, are in poverty.
—African-American same-sex couples have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African-Americans.
—One-third of lesbian couples and 20.1 percent of gay male couples without a high-school diploma are in poverty, compared with 18.8 percent of different-sex married couples.
—Lesbian couples who live in rural areas are much more likely to be poor (14.1 percent), compared with 4.5 percent of coupled lesbians in large cities. And 10.2 percent of men in same-sex couples who live in small metropolitan areas are poor, compared with only 3.3 percent of coupled gay men in large metropolitan areas.
—Almost 1 in 4 children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2 percent of children living with a female same-sex couple are in poverty, compared with 12.1 percent of children living with married different-sex couples. African-American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3 percent) of any children in any household type.
—And 14.1 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared with 6.5 percent of different-sex married couples. Also, 2.2 percent of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared with 0.8 percent of women in different-sex couples; 1.2 percent of men in same-sex couples, compared with 0.6 percent of men in different-sex couples, receive cash assistance.

There’s a little bit of an apples and oranges comparison here because they’re comparing all same-sex couples to married opposite-sex couples and among heterosexuals the married are more affluent than the unmarried. But then again, with LGBT couples legally barred from marrying in most of the country it’s hard to know what else you would do. It might be interesting to look specifically at Massachusetts, where equal marriage rights have been in place for a while, and do a married-to-married comparison there.