A massive poll released by Gallup today reveals some truths about the American LGBT community that might shock and upset people who like to imagine that television is real life: contrary to prime time network tropes, people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual are more likely to be nonwhite, young, have lower levels of education, and earn lower incomes, on average, than their hetero counterparts. But, as with all polls, this one's got some cracks.
First, let's take a look at what Gallup found in its interview-based survey of 121,000 Americans conducted this summer, in bulleted list form because it's Friday afternoon and sentences are hard.
- A higher percentage of black people — 4.6% — identified themselves as a member of the LGBT community than members of other races. The survey found 4.3% of Asians identified as LGBT, 4% of Hispanics, and 3.2% of whites.
- LGBT-identifying people are more likely to have low levels of education — 4% of people who didn't graduate from college, compared to 2.8% of people with bachelor's degrees and 3.2% of people with postgraduate degrees.
- Young women are the most likely to identify as LGBT; among survey participants between 18 and 29, 8.3% of women claimed to identify with the community, compared to 4.6% of men in the same age range.
- Members of the LGBT community are more likely to be poor. Among people earning less than $24,000 per year, 4% identified as LGBT. For people earning over $60,000 per year, the percentage dropped to 2.8%
- Old people are much less likely to identify as LGBT — only 1.9% of respondents 65 and older say GAY, compared to 6.4% of Americans between 18 and 29.
SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?! Well, first, you shouldn't look to Modern Family as your only source of for accurate depictions of demographic trends. Second, this survey might be making things appear to be more economically and educationally grim for LGBT community members than it appears. People's incomes tend to rise as they age, and young people today were lucky to grow up in an era when being gay is much more acceptable than it was during grandma-times, and as such more than three times as many people under 30 identify as gay than people over 65. So it stands to reason that the economic and educational results of the survey would reflect the realities of being a young person.
Very few people who are not Doogie Howser, M. D. have even had the chance to graduate from college by the time they're 18, much less graduate from college and professional school. It also makes sense that fewer high earners are gay — it's not because gay people are somehow inherently bad at making money or completing college; they're just younger. The likelihood that people on the young end of Gallup's sample (from, say, age 18-22) would be earning an income of more than $24,000 per year is slim; they're likely either still in college or in the process of establishing themselves professionally.
Further, the numbers could be further skewed by the fact that Gallup gathered its data through interviews, and among older generations, closeted people who are LGBT may have been hesitant to admit aloud that what they've been doing is totally gay.
And I know that Gallup is a big name for poll nerds, but they've been in a little bit of a spot over their latest national Presidential poll, which deviated pretty wildly from the other national polls and showed Mitt Romney leading President Obama by 7 points. Except, wait a second! Turns out that President Obama is winning almost every region by single digits — the West, the Midwest, the Northeast. But in the South, he's losing by 22 points. Which means that whoever was the first person to come up with the idea of getting dumb person together and putting them on an island where they can all hold hands and forward anti-global warming emails and wear racist tee shirts is gradually coming closer to existing in the American South. Sensible Southerners (because I know there are many, many of you, and you're lovely) — I am so sorry.
The moral of the story — rarely are things black and white, and rarely are polls and statistics the end of the story. They're often the beginning.