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There's a Bisexual Wage Gap, Too

And it's probably due to discrimination.

It's long been known that groups facing discrimination outside the workplace—women, gay men, blacks, and latinos—tend to get paid less. Now there's evidence of a bisexual pay gap as well, according to the findings of a new study from the American Sociological Review. And, unlike other pay gaps, parts of which can be explained away by factors such as working fewer hours or having kids, this one isn't as easy to explain. 

Drawing from two nationally representative samples of over 10,000 people 1  , the study found a 7 percent to 28 percent wage gap for bisexual women and an 11 percent to 19 percent wage gap for bisexual men, when compared to their heterosexual counterparts. "The findings are suggestive of discrimination," said Trenton D. Mize, a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, the study's author. "Because I've accounted for all the reasonable explanations for why we have that gap."

Previous studies have identified wage gaps for gay men. Some studies put it at 5 percent, others (PDF) at 10 percent. Similar studies have found that lesbians, on the other hand, make more than heterosexual women.

Like the gender wage gap, these pay discrepancies aren't due solely to discrimination. Take occupation choice, for example. Gay workers are nearly twice as likely to hold a bachelors degree as are straight workers and are therefore overrepresented in the top 15 highest-paying professions. But within the world of high-paying jobs, they get paid less. One study found that gay people choose professions that are "atypical of their gender." Since female-dominated fields tend to pay less, that may account for why gay men earn less. The opposite holds true for lesbian workers, who select into "male," and therefore better-paid, fields.

Wage discrimination is also more likely within those higher paying fields, where pay is dependent on merit and performance, and people's biases can play a strong role in evaluating and determining salaries. Gay men may get passed over for bonuses or pay bumps for the same reasons that women don't get raises.

Parenting choices are an even bigger factor. The "fatherhood bonus" boosts men's earnings more than 6 percent when they have a child, research has found. Gay men are less likely to have children, so fewer receive the bonus. Lesbian women are similarly affected. The "motherhood penalty" costs women 4 percent in wages for each child they have, the same research found. Since lesbian women are less likely to have children, they won't necessarily face the same motherhood penalty as straight women with families do.

Mize, in his research, found that these bumps and penalties account for most of the gay wage gap: "After including the effects of motherhood and marriage in the model—highly significant predictors of wages—the wage gap between lesbian and heterosexual women becomes insignificant." He found the same for gay men: Once accounting for fatherhood, the gap went away.

However, that didn't hold true for bisexual workers. "I found that marriage and parenthood explained little if any of the wage gaps for either bisexual men or bisexual women," he said. 

Mize contends that this leaves one explanation: stereotyping and discrimination. In previous research 2 , he has found that bisexual men and women are viewed as more immature and dishonest and less capable and competent than straight or gay people. 

In the U.S., no federal law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation 3 . The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a federal bill that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual identity, is not likely to pass any time soon. Mike Pence, the Vice President-elect has voted against the law, saying it "wages war on freedom of religion in the workplace."

President-elect Donald Trump has also said that if Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would allow businesses to legally discriminate against gay Americans based on religious beliefs, he will sign it.

"I'm pessimistic at this point," said Mize about the possibility of federal protections for bisexual workers. "The tone is not promising." 

Corrects chart to show that men and women earned different amounts of money.

  1. The researcher combined two surveys, each with its own flaws, to get a more accurate picture of the wage gap. The General Social Survey asked 13,554 respondents for sexual behavior and earnings, but not for identity. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health asked 14,714 respondents for personal earnings and sexual orientation, but only young adults participated in the study.

  2. This paper is still under peer review. 

  3. About 20 states offer protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers discrimination unlawful.

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