This inequality isn’t just restricted to gender; race plays a part too. Women from ethnic minorities in the United States experience even more discrimination than white women. Black women earn 60 cents and Latino women 55 cents for every dollar a white man earns. And studies show that gay men earn up to 16% less than straight men in the United States.
But one group bucks that trend: lesbian women.
The lesbian premium
In an analysis of 29 studies on wages and sexual orientation, Marieka Klawitter of the University of Washington found that lesbian women see a wage premium, earning on average 9% more than heterosexual women.
Klawitter looked at studies covering the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.
The results were adjusted to consider the fact that lesbian women are, on average, more educated than straight women, and less likely to have children. However, the gap prevailed.
A 2014 study from Nick Drydakis, looking at Klawitter’s analysis, found that this gap is highest in the United States, where lesbian women earn 20% more than heterosexual women.
This wage premium isn’t seen worldwide. In France and Sweden there is no pay difference for women of different sexualities.
But in Australia lesbian women earn on average 28% less than their straight female colleagues.
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A pinch of salt
The Economist notes that any research on this topic should be “taken with a pinch of salt”.
Although some of the studies Klawitter looked into did directly ask the sexuality of respondents, around half did not.
These studies instead asked participants who they lived with and their relationship with them. This method has the potential to distort the results.
The Economist also points out that it is very difficult to find a reason behind this wage premium.
It has been argued that perhaps lesbian women are more competitive than straight women, however some research into this found no difference in competitiveness.
Lesbian women have been found to work, on average, more hours than straight women, which could lead to more experience and a better chance of promotion.
The ‘wife penalty’
There could be another answer to the wage premium: men.
In an article for The Washington Post, Daniella Paquette questions whether men were actually the drag on women’s earnings. A study from the University of Nevada has been used to support this argument.
That study found that lesbian women who had previously lived with male partners made 9.5% less than those who had never lived with a male partner.
This led Paquette to identify the “wife penalty” as a potential reason behind the “lesbian premium”.
“A woman in a heterosexual relationship may opt out of work because the man’s salary is higher, or paying for good child care would cost more than she earns, or breastfeeding would be more difficult at work,” Klawitter said.
Unlike in straight couples, where women tend to take on more of the childcare and housework, same-sex couples may have a more equal distribution of work.
Studies have shown that same-sex households share chores more evenly than heterosexual ones, and that lesbian couples work more equal hours, even when they have children.
It should be noted that despite the “lesbian premium”, gay women still experience discrimination due to their sexuality.
Evidence suggests that they may face discrimination in hiring in comparison to straight women. Poverty rates are also higher for lesbian women.
As the Economist notes, “for boosting earnings, as in so many realms, still nothing beats being a straight, white, married man.”