How Much Do Gays Earn?



The gay market is sometimes referred to as DINKs -- double income, no kids -- who have the freedom to travel more often and higher "disposable incomes" to buy luxury items. However, this is changing as more gay families with children are emerging, from 1-in-5 men to 1-in-3 women having kids inside the household (per the 2000 U.S. census, see below) through previous opposite-sex marriages, adoption or natural childbirth. Analysis of the US Census also indicates that 57% of same-sex couples have both partners of a household working, compared to 48% of opposite-sex couples.

As for earning, few agree on actual figures. The community has a long history of insufficient research, and criticism of what research there is. However, things are starting to improve.

Perhaps the earliest source of U.S. gay demographics was for The Advocate in 1977, which found that its readership earned about 50% more income than the national average, and 70% were college graduates. Then in 1988, the National Gay Newspaper Guild hired Simmons Market Research, a widely respected market research firm. It mailed to readers of eight gay newspapers, that found average income was $36,800 compared to $12,287 for the general population, and that 60% of gays versus 18% of the U.S. population had college degrees.

Another survey from now-defunct gay marketing group Overlooked Opinions, which in 1992 reported the American gay market was worth $514 billion, gay households annually earned $52,624 (41% above the national average) and lesbian households $42,755 (26% above national average). But its statistics were later considered flawed due to methodology issues.

Simmons Market Research did a larger survey in 1997 and found that 28.5% of gay male individual incomes (3,896 surveyed) exceeded $50,000 annually and 21% exceeded $100,000. But its methodology has been discounted by some. In October 2001, OpusComm Group, in conjunction with the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, released the "2001 Gay/Lesbian Consumer Online Census"of 6,300 mostly U.S. respondents, the largest survey yet.

In a survey of more than 300 UK gay men, conducted by Out Now Consulting, 40% had a degree, incomes were higher than average – at more than £20,000 per year – most took at least two international flights per year and the average monthly credit card spend was £424. (Participants were self-selected, responding to a survey in two issues of Bent magazine, a free street-distributed publication formerly Now UK, in Dec 2003 and Jan 2004, the most widely circulated gay publication, approximately 60,000.) Stormbreak's 2000 data also found salary levels to be much higher than the national average (around £18,000) at £30,000 per annum (gay men £31,000, and lesbians at £26,000). The average amount of monthly disposable income was £663, but far higher for men, at £743, than for women at £493. Three quarters of gay people said they avoided buying from companies with a reputation for being homophobic. Moreover, four in five gay people made a positive point of buying from companies that have a pro-gay stance.

Still, most existing general market research data is considered flawed and exaggerated, due to a lack of random sampling or other reasons. Researchers say that random sampling is extremely difficult in the gay community, thus most research is of self-reporting volunteers skews results to higher incomes and education levels.

The OpusComm/Syracuse study has been criticized for no random sampling, no balancing against the general population, and for the possibility of "stuffing the ballot." OpusComm offers that stuffing wasn't possible because Syracuse used "pattern recognition scanning" to identify such problems, along with the imposing, 45-minute application.

Overlooked Opinions' and Simmons' surveys relied on lists of persons who had subscribed to publications, bought from catalogs or donated money to causes -- already displaying disposable income and skewing the data higher. Further, few remember that gay men and lesbians offer very different earning pictures; and that "household" income is frequently confused with "individual" income. (See Commercial Closet article Are Gays All Rich?)

By contrast, some research shows that gay men may earn less than straight men but lesbians may do better. A 1998 academic report by University of Massachusetts professor Lee Badgett found that gay male earnings were actually 4 percent to 27 percent less than heterosexual men. And a July 2006 study by the London School of Economics Center for Economic Performance looked at gay and lesbian couples in civil partnerships and married opposite-sex couples. It found that men in same-sex relationships earned 6% less than their straight counterparts and had a 3% higher unemployment rate. However, lesbians in civil partnerships earned about 11% more than straights and were 12% more likely to have a job.

A handful of major marketers have invested significant sums in proprietary research, including American Express, Subaru, Ford Motor Co. and IBM.

In September 2004, Witeck-Combs and Packaged Facts estimated the American gay, lesbian and bisexual market size conservatively at 15 million people (benchmarked at 6% to 7% of the adult U.S. population, equaling 14 to 16 million individuals over the age of 18), with a 2007 buying power of $660 billion, and projected to reach $835 billion by 2011. Not counting the statistical overlap of race and sexuality, that makes the lesbian and gay group larger than the Asian-American population of 12 million ($344 billion in buying power), but smaller than the African-American population of 36 million ($688 billion), and the Hispanic population of 41 million ($653 billion). The data for African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American populations are based on U.S. Census data as well as analysis released recently by the University of Georgia's Selig Center. Witeck-Combs/Packaged Facts found that average income for gay and lesbian individuals is $46,000, and discretionary income is $40,000 (86% of total).

The differences observed in the gay market affecting income are household structure, number of dependents, whether both partners in same-sex couples work (or not), and whether they live in more urban or suburban areas.

The $610 billion estimate is an increase from the groups' 2002 gay buying power estimate of $451 billion, $485 billion in 2003, and 2004's $580 billion. The numbers grow annually in tandem with the overall U.S. population and its buying power. Thus, the projection for 2006 is $641.3 billion, for 2007 is $674 billion, and 2008 to $708.5 billion.

Canada's pink market is estimated at $75-billion-plus by M.D.V. Représentations, which manages sponsorships for Canada's Pride events.

Gays are not all spring chickens. Witeck-Combs/Packaged Facts also estimates that 2 million gays are approaching or have already reached retirement age, and that by 2020, some 5.7 million, or 25 percent of the gay community, will be 50 or older.

In 2002, a fascinating study from the Brookings Institution by Richard Florida and Gary Gates found a relationship between high-tech cities and those with large gay populations. At the top were San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Washington, DC.

For some time, gays have also been considered early adopters of technology, particularly online. A 2003Forrester Research study shows that 80% of gay men are Internet users, compared with 70% of heterosexual men. And 76% of lesbians are online, compared with 69% of straight women. And they have been online longer. Almost 30% of all gay men and women have been online for more than seven years, compared with 18% of straight men and women. In addition, gay men are more likely to own portable MP3 players, browser-enabled phones and personal video recorders.


Next- Where Do Gays Live? How Many Households Are There?