This page looks at what is sometimes bundled as the 'pink'
demographic - gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT)
It covers -
The wired GLBT population is of interest because it has
been characterised (somewhat dismissively) as the "marketer's
dream audience". It also demonstrates the need for
caution in considering problematical claims about figures
and behaviour. It has become fashionable to write about
a discrete 'GLBT demographic' - one that is presumed to
be homogenous, rich and passive.
Forrester shrilled that it was uniquely "different"
and "a lucrative niche market", noting estimates
that US gay and lesbian consumers account for US$340 billion
in annual spending power.
Advertising Age disagreed, claiming that the spend
was around US$514 billion.
Modalis Research Technologies said the GLBT spend
is valued at "over $450 billion".
There have been similar claims in offline studies such
as Steven Kates' Twenty Million New Customers: Understanding
Gay Menís Consumer Behavior (Binghampton: Haworth
1998) and Grant Lukenbill's Untold Millions: Secret
Truths About Marketing to Gay & Lesbian Consumers
(New York: HarperCollins 1995).
A 2001 study by US market researchers Witeck-Combs
& Harris Interactive contradicts an influential 1998
and claims increasing ecommerce activity by members of
the GLBT demographics. "We have
long observed gay affinity for the Web, and the numbers
keep soaring". Witeck's 2000 report
that gays and lesbians are 'information-hungry' and
disproportionately favor use of the internet and online
would be more impressed by that study if there weren't
concerns about the size of the sample (137 people of 2,525
adults) and apparent assumptions about a uniform and passive
demographic, explored in Alexandra Chasin's preachy but
intelligent Selling Out: The Gay & Lesbian Market
Goes To Market (New York: St Martins 2000).
In practice the premises of such studies are problematical.
The May 2000 issue of Demography, the journal of
the Population Association of America, cautioned that
this is a hard population to target and analyze. Data
on sexual orientation is not as easily available as
information on race, gender and age.
was unchastened by criticisms, promoting the vision of
an untapped zombie market in Business Inside Out:
Tapping Millions of Brand-Loyal Gay Consumers (Chicago:
Kaplan Publishing 2006).
How big is the online GLBT market in Australasia and overseas?
The answer is that no-one knows, although that has not
inhibited pitches to investors and potential advertisers.
US researchers Computer Economics claimed
in 2000 that "between 2001 and 2005, the number of
gay and lesbian internet users will grow from 13.5 million
to 22.4 million" - arguably a significant underestimate
- with projections of growth of 120% in the Middle East.
The latter is from a very low threshold: while the online
GLBT population in South America was forecast to increase
from 106,000 in 2000 to 347,000 in 2005 that in Africa
was predicted to climb to 59,250 and in the Middle East
it would soar from 9,200 to 11,200 in 2005.
The US-based PlanetOut and GayCom sites have each claimed
one million members, with a collective market reach of
over 3.8m individuals. There have been similar claims
from EU and Australian GLBT portals or dating sites. As
we have noted in discussing online social
spaces such claims are often self-interested and caution
is appropriate in assessing whether all members of particular
online communities are active or indeed are discrete individuals.
has claimed that around 6.5% of the 105 million households
in the US have "at least one gay clicker" (which
given US household structure is probably an underestimate).
It argues that "22% of partnered lesbians and 5%
of partnered gays" have children at home, around
70% percent of whom are under the age of 17 and many from
That is consistent with the claim that 20% of US men in
gay partnerships and 30% of women in lesbian partnerships
have previously been married or are currently married.
Go to other studies
and you will find contradictory claims that
majority of gay and lesbian households are comprised
of what the Census Bureau coined "DINKS" - Dual Income,
No Kids. Only eight percent of same-sex partners have
children in the household, while 35% of opposite-sex
research comparing US gay consumers to the national index
of consumers reported that its group was 71% male and
29% female, twice as likely as the national index to be
professionals or managers and have a household income
over US$60K (indeed twice as likely to have household
income over US$250K), twice as likely to have a degree,
three times more likely to be online than the average
consumer, four times as likely to spend over US$150 on
long distance and twice as likely to spend US$250 on mobile
One of the sillier development theories at the end
of the 1990s was the claim that attracting a GL (but apparently
not BT) population to your city or region offered a quick
fix for securing investment in innovation and growth of
high technology industries.
That form of objectification, arguably the industry policy
version of Queer Eye For A Straight Guy, built
on research in works such as the 2001 study
by Richard Florida & Gary Gates on The Importance
of Diversity to High-Technology Growth and paper
by Dan Black & Gary Gates on Why Do Gay Men Live
in San Francisco? (PDF).
problematical The Rise of the Creative Class: And
How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community & Everyday
Life (New York: Basic 2003) - "why cities without
gays and rock bands are losing the economic development
race" - has encouraged civic boosterism such as the
comment by one US civic statesman that "where gay
households abound, geeks follow" and recipes
that include "take the guy with the tattoos seriously"
and "Hire his boyfriend". It has been hailed,
inevitably, in Salon, Harvard Business Review
and FastCompany, and as tartly questioned
by 'just add bandwidth and stir' sceptics such as the
Manhattan Institute's City Journal.
Works such as the US Gay & Lesbian Atlas
(New York: Urban Institute Press 2004) by Gary Gates and
Jason Ost offer a somewhat more nuanced view of clustering
and geekdom, reporting that same-sex unmarried partners
were present in 99.3% of all US counties and that contrary
to views that GLBT = young, rich and hip around 20% of
people in a same-sex couple were at least 55 years old
(with a higher proportion in North Dakota, Montana and
There has been no comparable major study of distribution
in Australia, New Zealand and the EU. However, it is clear
that the GLBT population - wired or otherwise - is not
restricted to chic metropolitan centres and is not necessarily
living in upmarket broadband parks.
income and spending power
Assumptions that GLBT people are wealthy (and have a higher
disposable income because they have disposed of kids)
have rightly been questioned.
Amy Gluckman & Betsy Reed's 'The Gay Marketing Moment',
in Homo Economics (New York: Routledge 1997), queried
the self-interested nature of claims by some GLBT marketers.
Lee Badgett, University of Massachusetts professor in
economics, exploded the myth of 'gay affluence' in a 1998
study suggesting that gay men earn less money on an individual
basis than their hetero counterparts.
In Money, Myths, and Change: The Economic Lives
of Lesbians & Gay Men (Chicago: Uni of Chicago
Press 2001) and earlier 32 page Income Inflation: The
Myth of Affluence among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Americans
she noted that much market research is based on a small
self-selected subgroup of GLBT consumers skewed towards
people with high incomes and high levels of education.
a result of using this biased sample of people who are
online and use gay Web sites, the companies conducting
the study have found what they were looking for ó gay
people with unusually high incomes and spending. But
a number of credible scientific studies that used data
from random samples of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual
people find the opposite result. Gay people and gay
couples do not have higher average incomes than heterosexual
A perspective is provided by Gary Becker's The Economics
of Discrimination (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press
1971) and Claudia Goldin's Understanding the Gender
Gap: An Economic History of American Women (New York:
Oxford Uni Press 1990).
In 2003 a paper by Nathan Berg & Donald Lien on Measuring
the Effect of Sexual Orientation on Income: Evidence of
suggested that gay men in the US earn 22% less than similarly
qualified men of the heterosexual persuasion, in contrast
to lesbians (who on average earn 30% more than straight
That was consistent with the 2001 study by Dan Black,
Hoda Makar, Seth Sanders & Lowell Taylor on The
Effects of Sexual Orientation on Earnings (PDF)
and the 2005 Selling Us Short: How Social Security
Privatization Will Affect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual &
Transgender Americans report (PDF),
which comments that
Americans, on average, have lower incomes than their
heterosexual counterparts, which translates into lower
Social Security benefits when they retire. In addition,
same-sex couples are not eligible for Social Security's
spousal and survivor benefits provisions, making the
LGBT community disproportionately vulnerable ... There
is a widespread myth that gay people are economically
advantaged compared to heterosexuals. U.S. Census data
and other national surveys indicate the opposite. In
fact, gay and bisexual men earn anywhere from 13 percent
to 32 percent less than heterosexual men
Berg & Lien problematically ask whether gay men "settle
for earning less" because in the absence of children
they can "actively choose leisure over income and
savings", whereas high earnings among lesbians might
be attributable to employer perceptions that they will
not stop working at any point in their careers to raise
children, so that "making one's lesbian status public
may be an especially credible signal of loyalty or workforce
Kirk Snyder in The Lavender Road to Success: The Career
Guide for the Gay Community (Berkeley: Ten Speed
Press 2003) noted that 30% of over 300 GL university alumni
said they had experienced verbal or physical abuse at
work because of their sexual orientation, with 54% considering
that being gay had a negative impact on their overall
Supposedly those who were open about their sexual orientation
earned 50% higher wages than those who were not, arguably
a reflection of personality rather than preference or