Is there any economic basis to homophobia?

William Alexander Johnson asks:

I always make sure to read your blog, and a while ago a Marginal-Revolution-type question popped into my mind:

Is homophobia the only form of hatred that doesn't have an economic component?

As far as I can tell, most hatreds between different peoples are caused to a great extent by economic conflicts.  Whites vs. blacks in the U.S., Europeans vs. natives in former European colonies, Christianity vs. Judaism vs. Islam, locals vs. immigrants in countries across the world, animosity between different castes in India, and even killings of supposed witches in tribal societies all have very important economic dimensions.

But homophobia seems to have absolutely no economic component.  I've heard that homosexuals are on average a little more economically successful than heterosexuals, but I very seriously doubt that that has the slightest bit to do with anything.

I can't think of any other form of hatred so divorced from "rational" conflict, so to speak.

…What do you think?

Bryan Caplan predicts greater tolerance in the future and Andrew Sullivan sees positive trends.  I do favor both gay marriage and other advances in gay rights, but when I scan the evidence, I am a bit pessimistic.  The positive short-run momentum is clear, but what about the longer run?  I see the following:

1. Prejudice and bullying against gay individuals is often brutal and unreasonable and it is applied where there is no evidence of harm from gays.  The prejudice is often strongest among teenagers and young males, and it weakens somewhat with age and socialization.

2. Strong prejudices against gay men and women are found in every culture I know of, past or present.  And yet in many cases homosexuality "limits the competition," so to speak.  This potential gain finds little appreciation.

3. There is a common and sometimes strong "disgust reaction," especially to gay men.

4. We learn from John Boswell that high levels of gay tolerance, in antiquity, were followed by a counter-reaction and higher levels of prejudice.

5. Religion, conservative morals, and sexual traditionalism make periodic comebacks.

Looking at the overall pattern, I wonder whether many individuals have a natural, innate proclivity to dislike gay men and women and to feel discomfort with the entire idea of homosexuality, bisexuality too of course.  Those preferences are not universal and they can be mediated by positive social forces, but left to their own devices, they will periodically reemerge in strength.


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