Survey: 3.4 Percent of Americans Identify as LGBT

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 19 2012 1:27 PM

How Many Americans Self-Identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender?

153998157
A new Gallup poll estimates that 3.4 percent of Americans are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Photo by Prakesh Mathema/AFP/Getty Images.

There's a lot of variation when it comes to estimates of how many Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, but a survey out this week from Gallup thinks it has the best answer yet: 3.4 percent.

The survey is based off of interviews with 121,000 people, which according to the pollsters makes it the biggest of its kind. The 3.4-percent firgure will seem low to many: As the Atlantic explained earlier this year, Americans tend to greatly overestimate the percentage of gay Americans, and it's not entirely clear-cut as to why:

On the one hand, people who overestimate the percent of gay Americans by a factor of 12 seem likely to also wildly overestimate the cultural impact of same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the extraordinary confusion over the percentage of gay people may reflect a triumph of the gay and lesbian movement's decades-long fight against invisibility and the closet.
Advertisement

The percentage misperception could also have something to do with the source of the 1-in-10 number that's been a popular citation for years. As the Atlantic notes, that number comes from Alfred Kinsey's 1948 report, "Sexuality in the Human Male," which was based on experience and notions of tendency, rather than the Gallup survey's use of identity as the central factor used to quantify the LGBT population. This shift also reflects a change in the language used to discuss such issues over time.

But the overall percentage isn't really the interesting part of the study, which also looks at the demographic breakdown of that percentage. Some of the most interesting tidbits:

  • First, non-white Americans are more likely to identify as LGBT than white Americans are: 4.6 percent of African-Americans identify as LGBT, as do 4.0 percent of Hispanics and 4.3 percent of Asians. By comparison, 3.2 percent of white Americans identified as LGBT.
  • Second, there was a pretty big generational gap. 6.4 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 identified themselves as LGBT, and the percentage sharply declined from there. Self-identified LGBT Americans include 3.2 percent of Americans aged 30-49, 2.6 percent of those between 50 and 64, and just 1.9 percent of those over 65.
  • Third, LGBT identification was highest among those with lower levels of income and education, with percentages slightly higher among those with a high school diploma or some college but no degree than among those with a college or postgraduate degree. And just over 5 percent of Americans who make less than $24,000 a year are LGBT, with numbers a couple ticks lower for higher income groups.

Finally, its worth noting that the Gallup poll, like other surveys attempting to document and quantify groups subject to some sort of social stigma, faced some challenges in getting accurate answers. As they explain:

"Measuring sexual orientation and gender identity can be challenging since these concepts involve complex social and cultural patterns. As a group still subject to social stigma, many of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender may not be forthcoming about this identity when asked about it in a survey. Therefore, it's likely that some Americans in what is commonly referred to as "the closet" would not be included in the estimates derived from the Gallup interviews. Thus, the 3.4% estimate can best be represented as adult Americans who publicly identify themselves as part of the LGBT community when asked in a survey context."

Check out the full survey results over at Gallup.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 24 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Partial Solar Eclipse of October 2014
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.