It Does Get Better, Exhibit A: Lesbians “Win the Pay Gap”

I’ll be the first to admit that the Autostraddle It Gets Better video was not the most hard-hitting of all entrants – I think at one point someone just yelled BREASTS. So, no, we’re not in the same league as City Councilman Joel Burns. BUT there were still some pertinent and meaningful points made, even besides the time Design Director Alexandra Vega did a backflip. Miss April Sarah Croce pointed out that “gay people have to go against the crowd and then they learn that it’s not a bad thing” – essentially, that being gay forces you to learn coping mechanisms and life skills and how to deal, things that you might not have ever had to do if you were straight and could skate by on that one particular brand of privilege. The proof? The fact that lesbians make 6% more than their straight counterparts, even when all other factors are controlled.

Experts have offered up a few different theories on this – for instance, that straight women on some level expect to be provided for by a higher-earning man, and so don’t pursue high salaries quite as hard as a lesbian might. Aside from the “uh, WHAT?” factor of that idea, it’s proven wrong – even lesbians who were once married to a man exhibit the same pay difference. It’s (surprise!) not about men at all; it’s about us.

Jezebel agrees:

Maybe by the time they reach the workplace, some gay women already have experience bucking gender stereotypes, so they’re less likely to play what editor Joanne Lipman calls the “passive ‘good girl'” at work. But again, nobody knows for sure why the lesbian pay gap exists — and finding out might tell us a lot about how both gender and sexuality impact people’s careers.

This makes a lot of sense; women in the corporate world or in any industry at all often report feeling trapped between conflicting ideas of what a woman is supposed to be and what a successful businessperson is supposed to be; there are certain qualities, like “meek” and “proactive” that are just mutually exclusive. Lesbians (and other queer womyn!) do have a leg up in this department; if you’ve figured out you’re gay, you’ve had to make your own peace with the fact that you aren’t going to be The Woman Society Wants You To Be.

But I would argue that it goes a step farther; it’s not just about ideas of femininity, it’s about how you exist in the world. The emotional reserves of strength and self-reliance and fuck-you that you need to build up in order to exist as a happy healthy queer lady are pretty significant; by the time you reach adulthood and a working life, you’re like a fortress against patriarchy and the old straight white men who want to pretend you don’t exist. The study notes that it’s surprising we make more given the homophobia we have to face; as far as I know, no other marginalized or protected-status group is statistically better off at anything in the work world than their more privileged counterpart. (In 2008, black men earned only 72% of what white men did; a female MBA grad will earn $4,600 less than her male counterpart.) I think that although we face homophobia in the workplace, it’s experienced differently than racism or sexism because gay people tend to have fewer visible markers of their identity, and the homophobia they’ve experienced over the course of their lives has made them tough enough to handle anything the work world throws at them, and determined enough to not give up on what they want.

There’s a lot of bad news in the world; the fact that wage gaps exist at all is one of them. But for now, let’s sit back and enjoy the fact that at least one of them is in our favor.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. It also says that lesbians are “more likely to be white” though, which IMO means there’s probably a problem somewhere (also they only looked at out women which might or might not relate to the former issue and blah blah blah.)

    • I totally agree. It’s not being lesbians, but being out lesbians. If you compare straight feminists with straight non-feminists, you will probably find that the former earn more. It’s probably just about self-respect not sexual orientation. And I guess you could say that out lesbians in general have more self-respect that women in general.

      • I think this ties in with why so many lesbian/bi women are feminists. Once you’ve had to reexamine your personal gender paradigm, you tend to end up reexamining society’s as well.

      • does the study mention what they qualify as “out”? Because people who are out in their social lives might night necessarily be as out in the workplace.

        • someone sent me the study: it doesn’t state whether they’re out or not, but the data are official Census figures where these women are counted as “partnered”, and cohabiting with another woman partner.

  2. I would love to know what the gay-straight pay gap is for men. If gay men make more, that’s an argument for the “we’re tough because we had to deal with shit” argument and if gay men make less, it might support the “more masculine = more money” argument eventhoughtherearebutchgaymenandfemmegayladies. Also, if gay men make less that would stop h8ers from using this statistic against us in future court cases.

    • ‘No one on the corner has swagga like us
      Swagga like us, swagga swagga like us’

      If you ask me, that’s where the 6% come from…

      • Whoops this posted in the wrong place. but you get my drift.

        And if I had to take a *wild guess*, I would guess that gay men make more than straight men…

    • gay men earn more than straight men, I don’t have references now but it’s a known fact, I mean, I could find tons if only I weren’t lazy

      I wonder if the wage gap happens because gay people have less children though? I don’t know, do gays have less children? Does this difference cause the pay gap? So much ignorance on my behalf

      • ok so I was totally wrong, like one thousand per cent dead wrong. I got confused with comparisons limited to the high-level professions. In general gay men earn LESS than straight men, so apparently the less you like dick, the more you earn.

    • not to me because it’s the NET difference – the real difference is much higher but it takes into account other factors normally associated with wealth like skin color, education, etc.

  3. I want to cheer, but at the same time, the fact that there’s a pay gap at all is problematic to say the least.

    • Immediately what I thought.

      What I also wonder, though, is how unmarried straight women, or straight women who marry later in life also compare to married/divorced straight women?
      I wonder if it’s less the whole “overcoming homophobic adversity” as opposed to the idea of self-reliance noted.

      Also, in keeping with the gender roles scenario, lesbian women might be more likely to land more typically “masculine” jobs that pay more than the socially equivalent “feminine” ones. For example, I know a lot of gay ladies that work in manufacturing (aka, a factory). Factory jobs aren’t always great, but they do tend to pay more than, say, retail or restaurants.

  4. why does this make me feel really uncomfortable? like when people talk about how Barack Obama means affirmative action should die idk I think I’m paranoid maybe

  5. “…and the homophobia they’ve experienced over the course of their lives has made them tough enough to handle anything the work world throws at them, and determined enough to not give up on what they want.”

    This statement is bothering me quite a bit. What exactly does it mean? especially since right before you compare other marginalized groups.

  6. yeah.. this whole article bothered me. anyone wanna talk about the first comment? how can i ‘enjoy the fact’ that a ‘wage gap exists in (my) “favor” when i’m a woman, a queer one, a brown one, and UNEMPLOYED. aaaaaggghhracismsexismqueertransphobia


    “Why do gay males have generally lower incomes than straight males?

    Gay males have more education than straight males, but they do not choose male-dominated professions as often as straight males do. In fact, they choose female-dominated and/or service professions much more often. Male-dominated professions (like construction) have generally higher wages than female-dominated professions (like secretarial).

    Gay males work fewer hours than straight males.

    Why do lesbians generally have higher income than straight females? It’s almost the inverse of the gay-male trend.

    Lesbians also have more education than straight females, but they work longer hours – because, generally speaking, they are less likely to have children to take care of at home.

    Lesbians are overrepresented in male-dominated professions that pay better than female-dominated professions.”

  8. -___- oh dear I don’t even want to know the stats of queer minorities in relation to their straight peers. Like, I want to be excited, but so many factors make me wonder even harder.

    …Oh look!! Jennifer Beals in a Powersexy outfit. :D :D :D

  9. While straight women make $8/hr, lesbians make . . . $8.48! With inflation increasing by 60000000000000000000000 % annually, this is great news.

  10. “There’s a lot of bad news in the world; the fact that wage gaps exist at all is one of them. But for now, let’s sit back and enjoy the fact that at least one of them is in our favor.”

    This seems screwed up to me…

  11. I think maybe the tone of the article is being misinterpreted?

    Every day Rachel writes about ways that gay people are more fucked than straight people. Every day another statistic about how we drink more or die more or are unemployed more or whatever. So when a stat says we’re doing better, I think it’s not out of line to be at least playfully excited about that. Like if the stat was that more women graduate from college than men, are we allowed to be like “OH HAY! We won a thing!” or should we all sit around and talk about how college costs too much. No we shouldn’t, because there’s already another post about that, just like there are plenty of posts on the topic of why women are discriminated against in the workplace.

    But this is about something else — one instance in which perhaps what doesn’t kill us has indeed made us stronger. We all have things to learn from each other as women, and i think looking at why lesbians make more is one of many interesting conversations on what kind of personality traits enable all women to succeed.

    also rachel just went afk and says to “tell them they’re right, i’m very problematic, and i promise to go hang myself”

    • rachel can’t hang herself!! how will i be able to convince her to marry me/let me be her friend?! i think maybe the reason some people may be disbelieving is because the study’s results say one thing and their check books (do people still have check books?) say another. i know that’s the reason i’m just a little skeptical. but times are tough, right? idk you guys, idk

    • “Learn the personality traits to succeed”!?

      Yes, because this study suggests that its the traits of lesbians that help them to succeed. I would like to see a racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic breakdown of this study, because I am sure we can learn what these really “traits” to succeed are.

      In the Jezebel article it makes it pretty clear what these “traits” seem to be. I am always skeptical of a research study that uses a convenience sample and then claims to be able to control for differences enough where it still comes out positive.

      But I will follow some of these traits to get a good higher paying job and attempt to turn myself white and able to afford higher education.

    • Rachel don’t hang yourself – if you do, Autostraddle will lose about 10,000 posts in the next 10 years and I’m gonna have to retire my subscription because then it won’t look like a good investment anymore. Just saying.

    • We understand this. What’s going on is that another byproduct of our shitty treatment is a morbid sense of humor, so we are exercising that. I now see that it comes off shitty. Sorry about that, Rachel.

  12. WE WON ONE.

    Thanks Rachel, this is great.

    I shouldn’t talk about my job on the interweb really, I’d get in trouble, BUT I will anyway cause whatever. I do make more than all of my straight female counterparts (that I can think of) at the company I work for. And absolutely one of the reasons is that I’ve transfered for the company 8 billion times.

    It’s just me talking here, but I’ve found that I tend to have less tangible commitments than a lot of the straight women I work with. I move where I want, when I want, however often I want. It’s made me more and more money over the years, and a lot of the straight women I work with, for whatever their reasons, don’t seem to take the same liberties in going for promotions, accepting transfers, switching departments, etc. Which makes me think Rachel is onto something here, we’ve already had to release ourselves from a lot of society’s and our family’s expectations, making risk-taking in other areas, including professionally, maybe a bit easier.

    I don’t know. Let’s keep winning some. Let’s win more, it’s fun.

    • this makes me think that I also earn more than all the straight women (my age) that I know. I’m not sure I have better skills than they do but I’m certainly more gutsy / risk-taking. Which I honestly wasn’t many years ago when I still wasn’t identifying as a big lesbo. So yeah, it’s not the sexual orientation in itself it’s just that for some reason we have more freedom.

      As THE MEN would go “who are we to feel so free” :)

  13. Another article uses the same Census Data to answer many of the questions posed in the comments.

    “Comparing the Earnings of Cohabiting Lesbians, Cohabiting Heterosexual Women, and Married Women: Evidence from the 2000 Census” by LISA K. JEPSEN

    Using data from the 2000 Census, I tested the hypothesis that cohabiting lesbians have statistically different earnings from cohabiting and married heterosexual women. Cohabiting lesbians earn more than their heterosexual counterparts, even when differences in child-rearing status are considered. Furthermore, the results do not support differences in household specialization as an explanation for the lesbian earnings premium.

  14. I thought this was really interesting, both the article and folks’ comments.

    I do think that this might (?) be different from other studies on minority pay gaps because this study only looks at women who are out. And out women might be more likely to have developed self-confidence and self-respect than their closeted counterparts. Maybe. It’s possible. That’s what I gathered Rachel was driving at. So I think there could be something to the notion that “out” gays are likely to fare better in a workplace that gives more money to those with greater self-confidence.

    It did make me think about my own work experience, where I definitely feel that I’m better off being a lesbian, and I’ve talked to other lesbians I’ve worked with who feel the same way. I don’t have to deal with guys hitting on me. I’m treated more like one of the guys, which has its advantages since guys still dominate my field. I definitely think I have more of a “respect me”/ “give me what I’m owed” attitude than a lot of straight woman. I’ve heard straight women say how often they are intimidated and fear that others are better than them; I don’t feel that way at all (and I don’t think these women should either — they’re good at what they do), and I’ve never heard my lesbian co-workers say such things. I’m not sure how much of that is a function of personality — I am definitely more aggressive than many women, gay or straight — and how much is a function of developing self-respect and self-confidence despite many people telling you that you are crap. Or, it could just be that that is the privilege of a white women who acts a lot like a guy, so does fine in a culture dominated by white guys. I imagine it’s probably a bit of all those things.

  15. Stupid theory number 1:

    Maybe it’s because lesbians always get themselves into a relationship with AT LEAST one psycho in their dating life. Most pretty early on, right?

    So you get out of that train wreck (somehow) and you promise yourself that you’re not going to put up with anyone treating you like crap any more.

    After dating maybe one or two more psychos, the message finally gets through and it starts spreading, not just in your relationships, but in LIFE IN GENERAL.

    So you get a job where they treat you like dirt and pay you peanuts and you turn round and go “HEY! I gave up being treated like dirt, so shove your crappy job, you worm!” So in turn that leads to better and better jobs.

    Okay, so this MAY or MAY NOT be based on personal experience. is. I just can’t think of any other explanation right now.

Comments are closed.