Friday, October 19, 2012

Counting Gays and Lesbians

Determining how many Americans are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender) has been attempted many times over the years with varying results. The biggest problem is underreporting, since many gays and lesbians will not say so on a survey. Another problem is how to ask the question. Terms such as "heterosexual," "homosexual," "bisexual," and "transgender" can stump the less-educated portion of the population. This is why the federal government modified categories on the 2006-08 National Survey of Family Growth from "heterosexual" to "heterosexual or straight" and from "homosexual" to "homosexual or gay" (for men) and "homosexual, gay, or lesbian" (for women). Too many uneducated respondents did not understand what they were being asked.

Now Gallup has waded into the water, asking more than 120,000 respondents the question, "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?" The result: 3.4 percent of adults aged 18 or older identify themselves as LGBT.

Some may raise issue with the way Gallup asked the question--is it too complex for comprehension? Does it suggest political as well as sexual orientation? Despite these issues, the results are interesting--particularly by age. The percentage who identify themselves as LGBT is highest among 18-to-29-year-olds (6.4 percent) and falls with age to just 1.9 percent of people aged 65 or older. It's no surprise that younger Americans are more likely than older adults to identify themselves as LGBT because their peers are more accepting. Delving into the data more deeply, however, there is a portion of the population that says "don't know" or refuses to answer the question entirely. This proportion is smallest among young adults (3.5 percent) and rises with age to 6.5 percent of people aged 65 or older. If you sum the percentage of people who identify as LGBT and the percentage who "don't know" or refuse to answer, differences by age shrink considerably...

Percentage who identify as LGBT plus "don't know"/refused to answer:
Total, 18-plus: 3.4 + 4.4 = 7.8%
18-29: 6.4 + 3.5 = 9.9%
30-49: 3.2 + 3.2 = 6.4%
50-64: 2.6 + 4.3 = 6.7%
65-plus: 1.9 + 6.5 = 8.4%

This sum may do a better job of estimating the true size of the LGBT population.

Source: Gallup, Special Report: 3.4% of U.S. Adults Identify as LGBT

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