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Until recently, statistics showed that straight men earned more than gay men. This fact was so well-known that it led people to dub it “the gay penalty”. However, it seems things have changed. Vanderbilt economists Samuel Eppink and Christopher Carpenter found a surprising connection between income and sexual orientation.

According to the 2013-15 US National Health Interview Surveys, gay men working full-time made 10% more than straight men working full-time (on average). Even after controlling for race, age, the presence and sexual orientation of a partner, ethnicity, and company and family size, this tendency remained pronounced.

The same surveys showed that statistics for gay women were similar. Among the US adult population, the different groups rank in the following order from highest to lowest earnings:

  • Gay men
  • Straight men
  • Bi men
  • Gay women
  • Straight women
  • Bi women

Why has the earnings gap changed for straight and gay men? The economists have the following theories.

Wealthier men have started coming out

Maybe gay men earned more money than straight men all long, but didn’t feel comfortable coming out. Attitudes toward the LGBT community are changing, and more people are coming out as a result. It may be possible that richer employees who once might have assumed coming out was too risky now no longer feel this is the case.

Higher employment rates

The researchers found that more gay men now had partners than before same-sex marriages were legalized in some states. Also before this happened, the employment rates of gay men were lower. One reason for this is that gay male couples tend to adopt kids and have one stay-at-home father to take care of them less often than female gay couples. This could account for the higher employment rate among gay men.

Changing Attitudes

Of all the possible reasons, this is the least probable because it hasn’t reflected on the circumstances of lesbians or bisexual persons. Yet, researchers do take it into account. Perhaps gay men faced obstacles in salary or promotion negotiations for this reason in the past.

Overall, gay male employment remains low. It’s hard to explain why more liberal attitudes towards this community would increase gay men’s salaries, but still keep many of them off the labor market. Perhaps not all men are coming out to researchers after all. What’s even more surprising is that for older men, the pay gap between straight and gay men is wider.