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Image: May S. Young via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Image: May S. Young via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

By Sean Waite and Nicole Denier

Over the last two decades there has been a growing interest in the labor market outcomes of gay men and lesbians. It has long been acknowledged that labor markets are stratified along multiple dimensions, such as gender, race and nativity. More recently new data has shed light on how labor market opportunities and rewards may also differ by sexual orientation. So far research has generally found that gay men earn less than straight men and lesbians earn more than straight women (in our work we show that this still means earning less than all men).

In most cases wage differences cannot be explained by differences in individual characteristics or choices, like weeks and hours worked, socio-demographic factors, education, and occupation or industry of employment. Researchers often interpret any wage gap that remains after accounting for these characteristics as discrimination. In other words, it is argued that employers and customers have a preference working with or doing business with straight men, rather than gay men. The wage advantage for lesbians relative to straight women is commonly interpreted as positive discrimination, i.e. since lesbians are less likely to be married and have fewer children, employers perceive them as more committed and less encumbered by family responsibilities than straight women. Taken another way, lesbians may experience less discrimination than straight women because they are perceived to be less encumbered by family and childcare responsibilities. But research so far has been limited by two big things. First, many data collection agencies don’t ask about sexual orientation in surveys (a great summary of this issue can be found on the Family Inequality blog), and if/when they do, it is often not asked in the context of questions about work situation. Second, research often focuses on one particular source of pay differences at a time, making it hard to evaluate the major factors driving wage inequality for gay men and lesbians.

Using Canadian Census data, we explore how various mechanisms contribute to wage gaps between gay men and straight men and lesbians and straight women, focusing on areas that researchers have identified as key determinants of how much people earn, including a 1) education and weeks/hours worked, 2) occupation and industry of employment, 3) sector of employment, and 4) family situation.

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