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section heading icon     overview

This page looks at what is sometimes bundled as the 'pink' demographic - gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people online.

It covers -

section marker     introduction

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.

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.

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 Greenfield report 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

confirmed that gays and lesbians are 'information-hungry' and disproportionately favor use of the internet and online communication.

We 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

demographically, 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.

Witeck 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).

section marker     population size

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.

Viacom 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 previous relationships.

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

The 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 partners do.

Simmons' 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 phone services.

section marker     distribution

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).

Florida's 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 Wyoming).

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.

section marker     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 paper (PDF) 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.

As 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 people.

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 Discrimination? (PDF) 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 women).

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

LGBT 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 attachment".

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 careers.

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 discrimination.

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version of May 2007
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