Report

LGBT Poverty in the United States

A study of differences between sexual orientation and gender identity groups
October 2019

Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, this report examines how sexual orientation and gender identity affect the likelihood that an individual will experience poverty. It provides economic outcomes of the LGBT community as a whole and specific subgroups of the population.

Highlights
Poverty rates differ by sexual orientation and gender identity with transgender people and cisgender bisexual women faring the worst.
Women of all sexual orientations have significantly higher rates of poverty than cisgender straight men and gay men.
LGBT people of most races and ethnicities show higher rates of poverty than their cisgender straight counterparts.
Data Points
22%
of LGBT people in the U.S. live in poverty
16%
of cisgender straight people live in poverty
29%
of transgender people and cisgender bisexual women live in poverty
21%
of LGBT people in urban areas live in poverty
26%
of LGBT people in rural areas live in poverty
Report

Executive Summary

Although prior research has documented rates of poverty among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and shown evidence of economic disparities for LGBT people, most studies on the topic have not been able to fully describe the entire LGBT community across the United States. Many past studies used data that do not allow for the identification of transgender people or people not living in same-sex couples. This study, which is the first in a series of reports based on the Pathways to Justice Project, addresses earlier shortcomings of the research on poverty to provide a new lens on one of the most important measures of economic security—living on very low incomes. In particular, this new research on LGBT poverty comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, which has asked questions about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) since 2014. This report covers self-identified lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, and transgender people (of various sexual orientations) in 35 states from 2014 to 2017. The focus of the full report is answering the following questions about LGBT poverty:

  • Do poverty rates differ by SOGI? How do these differences look across various demographic characteristics?
  • Do LGBT and cisgender (cis) straight people differ in ways that affect poverty?
  • Accounting for other known factors related to poverty, do LGBT people still experience higher rates of poverty compared to cisgender straight people?

Main Findings

  • Poverty rates differ by SOGI. We examined poverty rates separately for cisgender straight men and women, cisgender gay men and lesbian women, cisgender bisexual men and women, and transgender people.
    • LGBT people collectively have a poverty rate of 21.6%, which is much higher than the rate for cisgender straight people of 15.7%.
    • Among LGBT people, transgender people have especially high rates of poverty—29.4%.
    • Lesbian (17.9%) and straight (17.8%) cisgender women have higher poverty rates than gay (12.1%) and straight (13.4%) cisgender men. But cisgender lesbian women do not have significantly different poverty rates than cisgender straight women.
    • Bisexual cisgender women (29.4%) and men (19.5%) had higher poverty rates than cisgender straight women and men, respectively.

b. The sample size for cisgender straight men and cisgender straight women (n = 58,583) does not equal the sample size in Figure 1 for cisgender straight adults (n = 58,773) because 190 respondents did not provide information on their gender but did provide information on their sexual orientation or gender identity. For the same reason, the sum of the separate LGBT groups (n = 3,221) in Figure 2 does not equal the LGBT (n = 3,222) sample in Figure 1.

    • Poverty was also particularly high at the intersection of racial and SOGI minority statuses.
      • Black, White, Asian, and other-race LGBT people have statistically significant higher poverty rates than their same-race cisgender straight counterparts. For example, 30.8% of Black LGBT people live in poverty, whereas 25.3% of Black cisgender straight people live in poverty.
      • The patterns of racial disparities in poverty rates were similar for both LGBT and cisgender straight people. That is, for nearly all SOGI groups, people of color had significantly higher poverty rates than White people.
    • LGBT people in rural areas (26.1%) have the highest poverty rates, compared to LGBT people in urban areas (21.0%) and cisgender straight people in either rural (15.9%) or urban (15.5%) areas.
  • LGBT and cisgender straight people differ in ways that affect the likelihood of poverty.
    • Several characteristics known to be related to poverty are more common among LGBT people. LGBT people, particularly bisexual and transgender people, are more likely to be:
      • people of color,
      • young, and
      • experiencing a disability.
    • However, some LGBT groups have higher levels of education, live in urban areas, and have fewer children (namely, gay cisgender men), all factors that protect them from poverty.
  • Once factors such as race, age, location, education, disability, language marital status, employment, health, and children are taken into account, we find that LGBT people are still more likely to experience poverty than their cisgender straight counterparts.
    • Beyond the poverty-related factors that are more common among LGBT people such as those previously listed, LGBT people as a group had higher odds of being poor than cisgender straight people—17% higher odds compared to cisgender straight women and 15% higher compared to cisgender straight men. The chart below shows these differences, but the bars in light blue show differences that are not statistically significant.
      • However, compared to cisgender straight women, bisexual cisgender women and transgender people drove this economic disparity. Lesbians were neither more nor less likely to be poor than cisgender straight women.
      • Once accounting for the effect of other factors, bisexual cisgender men no longer had significantly lower poverty rates compared to cisgender straight men, but transgender people remained more likely to experience poverty. Gay cisgender men were just as likely to be poor as cisgender straight men (the difference in likelihood was not significantly different for gay and straight cisgender men).

Taken together, this report extends our knowledge of LGBT poverty. Using a new dataset with more detailed measures of SOGI and a much larger sample size than previous studies reveals important differences in the collective group of LGBT people.

Download the full report

LGBT Poverty in the United States