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US sexual minorities poorer than straight peers

Income/wealth gap even wider among women

Sexual minorities in the US are poorer than their straight peers, and the income gap is even wider among women, reveals research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Socioeconomic status is a key aspect of health and wellbeing across the life course, but is often just viewed as a statistic rather than as a potentially modifiable factor in the poorer health experienced by sexual minorities, say the researchers.

To try and address this, they drew on data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. This study, which began in 1994, has been tracking the long term health of nearly 21 000 teens in grades 7-12 at the time.

The current study focused on what had happened to 14051 of these teens by the time they were aged 24-34 in 2008-09.

Most of these participants (93%) were “completely straight,” but of the 7 per cent who identified themselves as gay/bi-sexual/mostly heterosexual, more of these were women: 761 (10.5%) vs 295 (just over 4%) men.

Sexual minority women were less likely to graduate from college, and more likely to be poor/nearly poor than their straight peers, after taking account of potentially influential factors.

They were also more likely to be enduring economic hardship, to be in receipt of welfare payments/food stamps, and to feel that they had lower social status.

But many of these differences lessened when educational attainment was factored in, “suggesting that promoting the achievement of sexual minority girls and young women may serve to reduce economic inequalities,” write the authors.

Sexual minority men were more likely than their straight peers to have a college education, but even so, they earned less and were more likely to report economic hardship in the preceding year than their straight peers.

“This pattern…suggests that sexual minority males experience wage discrimination,” write the authors.

Both sexual minority men and women were less likely to be home-owners, and this was particularly likely among black and Latina sexual minority women.

Among men, the picture was more mixed, as black and Latino sexual minority men were better off than their black and Latino heterosexual peers, whereas white sexual minority men were less likely to be among the highest earners than their straight white peers.

This is an observational study, and as such, can’t prove causality. Further research is warranted. But, say the authors: “The findings indicate that poverty, with accompanying economic strain, is an unappreciated ‘sexual minority’ issue for women.”

And they go on to say: “[Socioeconomic status] should be considered an important pathway through which sexual orientation health inequalities are generated.”

link to paper: jech.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/jech-2017-209860

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