New Cross-national Study Shows Vast Majority of Countries Have Become More Accepting of Homosexuality; Trend Slower or Reversed in Russia and Other ex-Socialist Countries

Contact: Tom W. Smith,, (773) 256-6288


Los Angeles, CA – May 28, 2011 – With support from the Williams Institute, a report by the
National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago presents new findings
on the cross-national differences in attitudes towards homosexuality. Based on five rounds of
surveys administered in different countries between 1988 and 2008, the report examined general
trends and ranked countries regarding their attitudes towards homosexuality.

The study concludes that “overwhelmingly, societies have become more accepting of
homosexual behavior.” Thirty-one countries were identified with data that showed trends in
public opinion about homosexual behavior. Of those, approval of homosexuality increased in 27
countries and in only 4 countries did it decrease: Russia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and
Latvia. Moreover, the growth in approval was stronger than the decline.

The one regional trend that was identified was that changes tended to be slower or reversed in
Russia and other ex-Socialist countries. The top five countries with the highest acceptance of
homosexuality ratings are the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, and Belgium-
Flanders. The bottom half of the list consisted of seven ex-Socialist states, four East Asian
nations, three Latin American countries and Cyprus, South Africa, and Turkey. For example, in
Russia, 59% of the population felt that homosexual behavior was wrong in 1991 compared with
64% in 2008. In 2008, only 8% felt homosexual behavior was “not wrong at all.”

Many countries, including the United States, showed a bimodal distribution, an indication that
many people have strongly held opinions about homosexuality. For example, in 2008, the vast
majority of respondents in the United States selected an option that was at one of the extremes of
the opinion scale: 54% said homosexual behavior was “always wrong” while 32% indicated it
was “not wrong at all.” Only 11% selected a response in the middle such as “almost always
wrong” or “wrong only sometimes.”

The report also found that attitudes towards homosexuality are more tolerant among younger
adults, those with more education, those attending religious services less often, and residents of
large metropolitan areas. This pattern prevailed in almost all countries and the relationships are
substantial in most countries. With regard to gender, women tend to be more approving of
homosexual behavior than men are in most countries, but the differences are smaller and less
consistent than other socio-demographics.

The report was authored by Tom W. Smith, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for the Study of
Politics and Society at NORC/University of Chicago. Established in 1941, NORC is one of the
largest and most highly respected social research organizations in the United States. For more
information, visit