Why is there a lesbian wage premium?

Marieka Klawitter of the University of Washington looked at 29 studies on wages and sexual orientation last year.* On average, they found a 9% earnings premium for lesbians over heterosexual women, compared with a penalty of 11% for gay men relative to straight men. This discrepancy has been borne out by research on America, Britain, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. Even after adjusting for the fact that lesbians are on average more educated than straight women, and less likely to have children, the gap persists.

Note the evidence suggests lesbians are not more competitive than non-lesbian women, and lesbians receive no wage premium in the public sector.  Here are some possible hypotheses:

…they work more hours per day and weeks per year than straight women, on average (see chart). Over time this could translate into more experience and better chances of promotion. There is a clue in a paper from Nasser Daneshvary, C. Jeffrey Waddoups and Bradley Wimmer of the University of Nevada, which finds that lesbians who have previously been married to men receive a smaller premium than those who have not.

Finally, it could be that in same-sex couples women do not feel obliged to do as much childcare or housework, giving them more freedom to fulfil their potential in the workplace. Lesbian couples tend to work more equal hours, even when they have children, and several studies find that same-sex households share chores more evenly than heterosexual ones.

That is all from The Economist.


Lesbians tend to be more masculine and masculinity correlates with various traits conducive to making more money.

Where in reality, a lot of lesbians are not 'masculine' - much the same way that a lot of gay men are not devotees of leather bars.

But just so stories remain ever so appealing to some.

He did not say all of them were, just noted the trend.

Fair enough - but that whole 'lesbians are just women trying to be men' is a stereotype with very deep roots, at least in American society. Which includes all sorts of things - lesbians don't shave body hair, don't wear make up, don't wear dresses, etc.

We can all agree that not all lesbians are like that.. Question is how many – and don't forget were only trying to explain a difference of 9%.

Do you ever get on your own nerves with this stuff?

They're not trying; they just are more like men (in the statistical aggregate). No one is denying variation; it's a question about the aggregate.

It's striking how many people have a hard time thinking statistically about sacralized groups and thus react unintelligently and emotionally when other people do speak intelligently about privileged groups.

On the other hand, if you are interested in learning more about differences in tendencies among lesbians, gay men, straight men, and straight women, my 1994 article in "National Review," "Why Lesbians Aren't Gay" is a good place to start:


I think the stereotype is well overplayed, but as Urso points out, the underlying reasons for that stereotype (that some members of the group are actually like that) might be very relevant in understanding smallish differences.

Right and since we're discussing smallish differences in statistics, they may be relevant here.

It helps to read first:

"Perhaps lesbians who are “out” are more competitive than their heterosexual peers. After all, studies tend to find that men are more competitive than women, which could explain some of the wage gap between the sexes. But a working paper published last year found that whereas gay men behaved less competitively than straight men (accounting for roughly two-fifths of their earnings penalty), there was no such difference between lesbians and other women."

It really does.

Here is the paragraph before the one containing the text you quoted - 'Research on this topic should be taken with a pinch of salt. Some studies rely on direct questions about sexual orientation. But around half of the 29 studies surveyed by Ms Klawitter were based on surveys in which respondents were not asked directly whether they were gay. Instead, they were asked who they live with and what their relationship with them is. Both methods tend to find a wage premium. But they may both miss some gay women in a way that distorts the results.'

Not all lesbians are "masculine"....

Gabrielle, for example.

Fascinating. Tell us more.

But in a lesbian couple one is usually more masculine than the other.

Ok, MK, now read Steve's post again and try to explain what your point was

more testosterone..,,,oodles of it....oozing out of their pores...

The politically correct person in me wants to disagree with you but I'm struggling not to agree with you sir....

"Tend" is a word used to suggest without being able to assert.

Some people tend to say things phrased in a way that allows to both simultaneously fulfill a fantasy and to deny that they enjoy it.

Title of the post: "Why is there a lesbian wage premium?"

Its almost as if it invites speculation.

And Sailer most certainly *asserted* that lesbians *tend* toward masculinity. Does anyone actually disagree or are we all just going to pretend we can't read?

Seeing Chris S below, it probably is not a case of pretending.

Then why the wage premium for gay men?

"compared with a penalty of 11% for gay men relative to straight men"

They do not have families to support so their occupational choices are geared more toward what pleases them than what optimizes earnings. They also favor more creative occupations which do not pay all that well.

But, surely, the study would control for occupational choices, and if it doesn't, what good is it in the first place?

No clue. Strange things happen with these studies. I imagine they can do so in coarse terms but not fine terms. The wage premium might reflect advancement within occupational categories and not between them. Take libraries and archives as an example. About 85% of the people in that trade are female. You see the men in academic libraries, in library administration, in central libraries, in digital resources, and in specialties like law or archives. Go to a school library or a suburban branch library and you'll see hardly any men. You see them at the central library downtown or the court library.

Perhaps they favor occupations where they are more accepted, but that doesn't mean they're actually good at those occupations. Better to be a mediocre hair stylist and feel like you can be yourself than be a closeted Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, even if you're talents are better suited to Gray Flannel Suit occupations.

"But, surely, the study would control for occupational choices, and if it doesn’t, what good is it in the first place?"

You have way more faith than I do in social science study design.

Better to be a mediocre hair stylist and feel like you can be yourself than be a closeted Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,

It is a characteristic bit of foolishness in this age that everyone should want to make a public point of his perversions.

Lesbians tend to be more masculine and masculinity correlates with various traits conducive to making more money.

Please update your cv to include your proficiency in gender studies. ;)

"Lesbians tend to be more masculine and masculinity correlates with various traits conducive to making more money"

Please update your cv to include your proficiency in gender studies. ;)

I'd suggest controlling for endogenous testosterone (using 4D:2D digit ratios).

The answer probably lies in the increased amount of hours and weeks worked.

That - along with lower likelihood of kids - indicates a long and deep commitment to work

It's also an interesting variable for the discussion about women being paid less because of sexism. Why would a sexist work culture be more favourable to lesbians?

Seems like companies are more rational than biased when it comes to compensation.

I'd favor this idea. Also knowing you have a high income earner as a lifetime partner will likely affect your own lifetime income as well. Working an extra 10 or 20 hours a week isn't as important if your partner already makes way more than you, the sacrifice isn't as worth it.
I don't know if lesbian couples stay together as long or longer than married heterosexual couples, but given how recent social acceptance of it is and how relatively infrequent it is, I'd imagine it's possible this is affecting things here.

"I don’t know if lesbian couples stay together as long or longer than married heterosexual couples"

They don't. Lesbian couples have much higher divorce rates than gay male or heterosexual couples.

Maybe the arrow of causality goes the other way? Higher earning women are more likely to be exposed to certain viewpoints which lead them to identify as lesbian.

huuuuh.... NO.

One might think. The balance between physiological causes and sociological ones appears to be quite different for lesbians than male homosexuals.

So, assuming women are more flexible in their orientation than men, then this could be a plausible answer. If potentially high earning college students are more exposed to Lesbianism then they might tend to choose that path more often.

"assuming women are more flexible in their orientation than men"

Seems to be so, for example girls who engage in sexually provocative dancing with each other or who are open to kissing (or more) with people of the same sex. But, I wonder if this is any sort of biologically wired openness or whether the fact that some men will find this kinky and attractive will lead essentially straight women to be more open to experimentation. The converse certainly does not apply to men in the current social environment: essentially straight women are not sexually attracted to men for the fact of observing their same-sex interests.

The way this was taught to us in high school was that there is basically a spectrum from gay to straight, and that most people like at the extremes, but that there is indeed a spectrum. What would be asserted here, essentially, is that women are more evenly distributed across this spectrum than men.

I think the fact that it is miles easier to please a man than a women might be relevant here. Some women who experiment find "oh my GOD, someone who finally knows/cares how to please me sexually", whereas for a decent share of men they might be just as happy to "stick it into a warm, wet hole and ejaculate to high heaven", as the drummer of a band I used to play with used to put it.

There appears to be physiological evidence for this. Using blood flow monitoring of the genitals to measure arousal of men and women. Men usually only showed physical arousal to porn of the appropriate orientation (although more men respond to gay porn than self identify as gay). Women tended to respond to everything to some extent whatever their self identified orientation. Male sexuality seem to be more polarized.

Surely the answer is systematic oppression?

Absolutely! And clearly we need to pass some new laws to enforce wage equality.

The reasons most often given for paying women less than men do not apply to lesbians

Why? Lesbians can and do get pregnant too, sometimes.

Indeed they do:


Note that, from the article, lesbians are still paid less on average than gay men. This isn't a "lesbians are the best paid group" piece. It's "The wage penalty for being female is slightly offset by being lesbian, whereas there's a slight wage penalty for men of being gay, but not as much as for being female."

One can explain it all by discrimination in the workplace. Lesbians, perceived as "more masculine" (cf comments here) will be treated a little bit more like men in wage negotiations. (Numerous studies showing employers start lower in offering wages to women, are more reluctant to go to a higher amount, penalise women in other ways if they negotiate assertively.) Gay men, perceived as "more feminine" may be subject to some of the female wage negotiation practices. Not as much as women, but a bit.

Sounds like there are some hundred dollar bills lying on the sidewalk ... Just start your own business and employ straight women. You'll make a fortune!

I do employ some straight women in my business and find them to be great employees.

Over the last several decades, I've found there's a small corps of women in the office who are quite goal-oriented and capable, another corps who fancy that the office is a place to socialize, another corps who are out sick a great deal, another corps who get into petty disputes over turf and procedure, a large corps who do their jobs satisfactorily and go home, a small corps of hopeless incompetents who are parked in positions where they cannot do much harm, and a small corps of incompetent (and often vicious) managers. The 'great employees' I've known can be counted on the fingers of my left hand. One retired in 2002 and two others were run off the premises by the incompetent managers.

By the way, if everyone is 'great', no one is. There has to be a rank and file next to which the 'great' stand out.

I've found exactly what you have, for men as well. Somewhat more men in the petty disputes camp and somewhat fewer in the place to socialize camp. Otherwise, mostly the same.

So, basically about the same as men?

No, not at all. Truth be told, the only problem you see again and again with certain male employees where I've worked is slacking off on the job, which occasionally includes something gruesome like looking at porn on company time. To be fair, a few of them did not have enough work to do. One other was easily manipulated by the office politician one desk over into taking a burn about this, that and the next thing. Another, having had nearly every consequential task taken away from him, sat in his office looking depressed and marking time 'till he could collect his pension. He retired in 2013.

My experience matches Art Deco's. I have found extremely few men who are interested in socializing (save gay men). I see plenty of incompetent, vicious managers (more men in mgmt.?).

But the annoying procedural Nazis are almost always women. One man's experience, obvious.

On the other hand, the most grotesque slacking and harassment almost always comes from men.

Remember the joke about the economist who walks past a hundred dollar bill lying on the ground, reasoning that he must be hallucinating since if it was actually there someone would have picked it up already?

The real world is full of hundred dollar bills lying all over the place (e.g., I read yesterday that March oil contracts are $30 a barrel, but April contracts are $32 a barrel), but various social barriers and entrenched habits prevent us from picking them up. In earlier years, I remember working shifts with experienced and trained engineers, at a time where engineers in similar fields were highly in demand in Ontario. We worked together as gas station attendants and overnight security in condo construction sites. Those are hundred dollar bills on the ground. Why doesn't anyone pick them up? Because we prefer to hire people who are culturally and linguistically similar to us, even when this might not be the profit-maximizing decision. Also, many employers systematically believe that foreign experience is worth less than domestic experience, and rarely consider that the foreign experience could bring valuable new ideas and perspectives to the team.

"The real world is full of hundred dollar bills lying all over the place (e.g., I read yesterday that March oil contracts are $30 a barrel, but April contracts are $32 a barrel)". That's not a good example at all. One contract is higher than the other for very legitimate reasons. The time value of money inflates the price of the further contract, the cost of storage/carry is higher on the further contract, there is higher uncertainty over a longer timespan, etc. It's called contango and is a very normal state of futures pricing.

Here are some hundred dollar bills lying on the sidewalk: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/feb/19/ebay-study-shows-online-shoppers-are-subconsciously-sexist.

You seem to be offering a model wherein the employees strategy has no impact on the outcome of a wage negotiation aside from whether the employer finds it pleasing. If employers can just decide not to pay people more, why don't they apply this to straight men and lesbians? Kindness?

Wage negotiation skills are also not the only determinant of wages.

Not kindness, unconscious bias.

One enters wage negotiations with a figure in mind of what the person is 'worth'. Any notion that this figure is fully rational is simply in denial about how human beings work. We are subject constantly to a range of biases (often not advantageous to us!), heuristics, idees-fixees, associations, cultural prejudices, and poor instincts.

All of these factors can lead employers to undervalue some employees and overvalue others, measured against the actual work they do and value to the organisation. Not by *multiples*. Not by 50%. Just by a bit.

I expect you probably knew that this would be my answer, and I anticipate that you don't believe that unconscious bias exists. That might just be my heuristic of course. But if you don't believe that you - and all other humans - are more complex in motivations than just the little rational productive agents beloved of economic models, probably we won't have a very productive discussion.

Well the wage penalty for women once you control relevant factors is pretty small, certainly less than the 11% "gap" cited for gay men. So I guess the study does not control for relevant factors? How do you explain women being paid more out of college?

11% is a hell of a lot more than the male/female wage gap when you actually control for relevant factors.

Of course, many of the comments rely on stereotypes. I'll add mine: gay men are similar to women in that they like to decorate and do long lunches with friends and shop, whereas lesbians are similar to men in that they don't and, hence, have more time to devote to work. Also, my observation of straight professional couples and lesbian professional couples is that the former eventually assume traditional roles especially after they have children whereas the latter are less likely to do so even after they have children (of which they have fewer).

Lesbians tend to work in mind numbingly dull, highly unionized settings in the government that pay better than average, such as corrections.

You are criticizing Tyler's abstract: "lesbians receive no wage premium in the public sector"??

What is your authority?

Hmm... Since many prisons have been privatized, are corrections employees still considered public sector?

An appeal to authority? The sarcasm is difficult to detect...

Or maybe they just feel safer coming out when benefitting from union protections. Because there are still an awful lot of homophobes out there.

The tragedy here is that Tyler seems to have posted this article non-ironically, as if he believed it contained useful information. This should scare you.

On the plus side, we can now interrupt people who non-ironically cite the "women's pay gap," and say "You mean the straight women's pay gap, right?"

Where did you read anywhere that the pay gap for lesbians is zero? It's just less than that of straight women, if the results are to be believed. Should any and all academics self censor with regard to discussing matters of sexual orientation?

That's nice. Since it's not much of a problem, can we now unload the employment discrimination law? Fewer opportunities for lawyers to second-guess the decisions of businessmen and impose compliance costs on them would be bucco nice.

Why shouldn't the burden of propagating the species be roughly equally shared across male and female segments of society? Employers may have rational reasons to discriminate, but that does not mean that it is desirable to do nothing.

I assume lesbians just don't interrupt their careers as often for child rearing as other women. Also they might be perceived as less risky in terms of suddeny wanting months of leave.

The later is not separable from the "masculinity" theories mentioned above. When you get to know a co-worker you get a feel for how big a deal his or her job is relative to the rest of life. Women tend come across as well rounded, sometimes in ways that don't help their carrieers. Many lesbians -- even closet ones -- might give differerent impressions.

"Even after adjusting for the fact that lesbians are ... less likely to have children"

1. Lesbians - and gay men - still face social discrimination or feel that they will. All "out" lesbians have pretty much by definition made a choice to take a risk and announce their orientation. Thus, they have two characteristics: One, they saw a difficult situation and faced it, instead of avoided it. Two, they have come through a difficult situation and are stronger as a result.

2. The workplace and life in general rewards an appetite for managed risk, and stronger people do better than weaker people in general.

Lesbians are stronger than non-lesbians and tolerate more risk (ceteris parabis) so therefore earn more.

Pretty obvious really.

Except that hypothesis doesn't explain why lesbians earn more than straight women, while gay men earn less.

I have a suspicion they are inclined to hire one another. One of my brothers had lesbian roommates in college. Many of them were hypermasculine to point of violence- one of them broke her lover's arm in a fit of jealousy. For my brother, it was a bit like mothering a bunch of feral cats. Of course, much later, when he reached out to one of these people to see if he could get a job where she worked, she just told him he wouldn't want to work there.

If I remember correctly the article shows that lesbian women have much less children than heterosexual women. It´s that simple.

+2 (but not +3), This seems the most likely explanation.

"Even after adjusting for the fact that lesbians are ... less likely to have children"

Sure, that's what was stated, but what does that mean? What's the specific adjustment? How did they adjust for that fact?

Ah, another study. Is this the way economics advances, or is this just another curiosity to be marveled at until the next one comes along? And further, why should I care one way or the other?

We could try astrology ...

Maybe lesbians are motivated to work hard for the same reason men are: pussy.

The study isn't about lesbians, it's about out lesbians.

Lesbians as a whole are likely to be quite similar to women as a whole.

People who are willing to come out are likely to be stronger-willed than those who are not.

It's the willingness to come out that's the underlying cause, not the lesbianism.

"Lesbians as a whole are likely to be quite similar to women as a whole."


"Lesbians as a whole are likely to be quite similar to people who want to have sex with women as a whole."

Sounds about as likely.

In statistical reality, lesbians on average tend to be a combination of both theories: kind of like straight women, kind of like straight men (but not very much at all like gay men).

Sexual life differs.

Gay guys are promiscuous. The median gay guy had > 500 partners in his life time.

Lesbians are *more* monogamous than straights, having very few partners over a lifetime.

Marriage overseas wages, thus relationship stability probably increases wages. Via same routes as marriage

The numbers are from David Buss' excellent "The evolution of sexual desire"

The probable reason for the gender disparity is that guy's generally tend more towards variety in sex and short term sex. In straight sex, the gender differences cancel out. But in gay people men act as extreme men (no women around to ask for marriage and a house+garden), while lesbians too become feminine to the max

"The median gay guy had > 500 partners in his life time."

Not even remotely true. Anecdotally, the only four openly gay men I know have been in stable relationships for years. No idea about the rest, but observe that your first statement is pure bunk.

Here is one reference


28% reported > 1000 partners. AMD this is compatible with 2 gay guys I personally know......

I conclude that men who were openly gay in 1978 were ultra promiscuous, not that this is representative of the broader population of gay men.

Everyone's an expert on lesbians.

This has got to be the most hilarious post on MR, ever.

+1 for MR lezsplaining.

This is a favorite topic of mine, especially since I am a lesbian trapped in a man's body.

I also identify as an attack helicopter.

My theory:
People are less good at negotiating against the sex they are attracted to. Most people evaluating wages are men, therefore people that are attracted to men will tend to be paid less. Lesbians aren't attracted to men, gay men are.
I would guess that heterosexual men would tend to be paid less if evaluated by women, and straight women would tend to be paid more.

So a company looking to hold down wages should hire gay male HR reps?

If what you're saying is true, then why wouldn't there be a straight female "vamp" wage premium as they bamboozle those straight male wage evaluators?

A lot of companies do.

Better looking people do get paid more.

Some counterevidence: HR is mostly females, and they tend - at the margin - to hire attractive men and unattractive women:

Are Good-Looking People More Employable? http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1705244

Surprise! Man and women are different and make different life path choices!

HR doesn't do salary reviews or decide wages.

Maybe not directly, but they certainly place people into roles. IE if you slant attractive people towards sales and management and un-attractive people towards worker bee positions then you end up doing so. And doesn't that correlate with many work places?

Women are more attracted to wealth and success. If you want to attract women you should put more emphasis on chasing wealth and success than if your goal is to attract men.

With Camille Paglia coming up on Conversations with Tyler, its tempting to turn to her Sexual Personae. Paglia makes much of men's insecurity with respect to straight women. Maybe straight men, who tend to occupy relatively larger numbers of the positions involving personnel decision making, do not have similar anxieties about lesbians and therefore are more willing to advance their careers? Anyway, maybe a question Tyler can ask her?

Personally, I would hesitate to hire an attractive and sexual woman who I knew I would be working with closely, and I'm not even married. Not because I'm afraid of them (no, not at all), but because I do not entirely trust myself to think rationally when women are flaunting their stuff in a presentation.

And as a result, I am therefore predisposed to believe that women who flaunt their stuff (sexually) in a presentation, etc., may have gotten their position through a career of similar such strategies, and not on the basis of merit.

It's not that I would only hire ugly women, but that I would have most confidence in the abilities of a woman, even an extraordinarily attractive one, who does not flaunt her stuff in the workplace. If she's obviously thought carefully about "just enough cleavage, but not too obvious", "just enough leg, but not too obvious", etc., I immediately discount her abilities without giving her the benefit of the doubt.

This sort of stuff leads many workplaces to ban cleavage, specify just how much leg women can show, and various other things.

In the wage papers I've seen, there has been no attention paid to bargaining skill, persistence or vigor.

Jennifer Lawrence famously complained about unequal pay, but then admitted that she really wanted the role and didn't fight as hard for pay as she should have. In reality, her agent probably screwed up, but the point is that hard bargaining always inflates the numbers.

Some people can be so vigorous about higher pay and price themselves out of a job. But their unemployment is not calculated into wages as it should be. When they succeed at getting higher wages, their reported salary overstates their average lifetime wages.

If women are more averse to bouts of unemployment or if they prefer not to haggle over wages or are not particulay good at it, this probably explains every last cent of the wage gap. Lesbians perhaps are more aggressive about wages, like men.

Women over pay for a lot of things. This is consistent with diminished willingness or ability to bargain hard. Note well that there is a difference between haggling on small things (the price of tomatoes or the price of an antique) and bargaining over the value of your labor. 75% of car buyers pay full MSRP, and most of these are women. Many are minorities. This isn't discrimination, it's disparate abilities and willingness. Note that it's not about the willingness to pay more or less, but the willingness to spend time fighting over price.

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