Why Do Lesbians Earn More Than Straight Women?

Commentators offer a variety of theories

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Research indicates that lesbians tend to make more money than heterosexual women. Over at Big Think, Marina Adshade attempts to demystify the phenomenon:

Sure, lesbian women are better-educated on average, are more likely to be white, live predominantly in cities, have fewer children, and are significantly more likely to be a professional. But even when you control for these differences, the wage premium is still on the order of 6%.

It is fascinating when the data starts looking like the majority is being discriminated against. Is it wage discrimination, though, or is there an economic argument for why lesbians are getting paid more?

Adshade's question has invited a number of responses. How are people accounting for the so-called "lesbian wage premium?"

  • Expectation of a Male Partner, suggests Adshade. The gap between male and female wages has narrowed, she concedes. But if a woman believes she'll marry a man who earns more than she does, she may have less of an incentive to invest in skills that can help her navigate the labor market. On the other hand, women who expect to have a female spouse "are just as likely as not to be in a relationship with a woman who earns an income that is comparable to their own. With no expectation of exploiting the comparative advantage in the home production, these women should increase investment in human capital that gives them an advantage on the market." Yet Adshade adds that a study comparing the wages of never-married lesbians and lesbians who were once married to men doesn't fully substantiate her theory:
The premium does not disappear completely for the subset of previously married women but is reduced by about 17%, providing some support for the idea. At 5.2% though, the once-married lesbian premium is still high enough that I don’t think we can consider the case closed.
  • Salary Bargaining, offers Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing: "I, for one, am curious as to whether lesbians are more likely to negotiate for raises than straight women." She calls for more research into the subject, and recommends exploring whether some lesbians make more money than others because of their social circles or personalities, what high-earning straight and lesbian women have in common; and how bisexual women stack up against other groups in terms of income. 
  • Past Experience, hypothesizes Anna North at Jezebel: "Maybe by the time they reach the workplace, some gay women already have experience bucking gender stereotypes, so they're less likely to play what editor Joanne Lipman calls the 'passive good girl' at work."
  • Professional Choices, argues Joe Clark at his Gay Money website, in a post preceding Adshade's article. Lesbians may work longer than straight women "because, generally speaking, they are less likely to have children to take care of at home," he explains. Clark adds that lesbians are "overrepresented in male-dominated professions that pay better than female-dominated professions."

(h/t: Bucks and Freakonomics blogs)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.