New Research Finds Gay Men, But Not Lesbians, Are Discriminated Against in Jobs
By Lori Wright, Media Relations
October 24, 2007
Gay men working in management and traditional blue-collar, male-dominated
jobs make less than straight men because they are discriminated against by
their employers, according to new research released by the Whittemore School
of Business and Economics.
Lesbians, however, do not experience similar discrimination in the labor
market, according to Bruce Elmslie, professor of economics, and his co-author
Edinaldo Tebaldi, former assistant professor of economics at UNH now at Bryant
University. Their research appears in the Journal of Labor Research in the
article “Sexual Orientation and Labor Market Discrimination.”
According to the authors, gay men who live together earn 23 percent less
than married men, and 9 percent less than unmarried heterosexual men who
live with a woman. Discrimination is most pronounced in management and blue-collar,
male-dominated occupations such as building and grounds cleaning and maintenance;
construction and extraction; and production.
The authors also found that lesbians are not discriminated against when
compared with heterosexual women. They conclude that while negative attitudes
toward lesbians could affect them, lesbians may benefit from the perception
that they are more career-focused and less likely to leave the labor market
to raise children than heterosexual women. According to their study, 18.1
percent of lesbians have children, compared with 49.4 percent of straight
“Employers could reasonably infer that a lesbian applicant or current
employee will have a stronger attachment to the labor force than will a heterosexual
woman,” the authors said.
The authors note that previous studies of attitudes of heterosexual men
toward gay men and lesbians shows that the bias against gay men is much stronger.
Other studies show that gay men are more likely to be the victim of violence
because of their sexual identity than lesbians.
The authors cite a number of possible factors as to why gay men experience
labor discrimination and lower wages in certain industries. There is strong
evidence indicating discrimination is tied to employer and employee bias.
“Employers may disapprove of gay lifestyles and act on this bias in
making hiring decisions,” the authors said. Employers also may discriminate
against gay men in response to the desires of the majority of employees.
If employers consider mixing heterosexual and homosexual employees distracting
and detrimental to productivity, the authors said the employers may consider
it profitable to discriminate.
Gay men also may experience labor market discrimination because customers
may not want to interact with them, thus influencing hiring practices. “If
customers prefer to interact with heterosexual employees, the owner will
act on the customer’s taste for discrimination,” the authors
Finally, discrimination may occur as a result of anti-gay attitudes associated
with AIDS and misunderstanding as to how HIV is transmitted. Previous research
shows that people with HIV/AIDS have higher rates of absenteeism from work.
The authors theorize that biased employers may be reluctant to hire gay men
because they are concerned about a loss of productivity if a worker becomes
infected with HIV/AIDS.
“If employers perceive one group to be generally less productive or
more costly than other groups, individual members of the negatively perceived
group will receive lower wage offers regardless of their true characteristics,” the
In this study, employee/employer bias was the most prevalent and overwhelming
indication of discrimination against gay men. If the discrimination was consumer-based,
the discrimination would be more evident in the services industry where there
is direct interaction between employees and customers. If the discrimination
was tied to AIDS/HIV status, the distribution of discrimination would be
more uniform across industries.
The authors analyzed labor and wage information from more than 91,000 heterosexual
and homosexual couples collected by the U.S. Census March 2004 Current Population