The LGBTQ+ Women’s Wage Gap in the United States

Produced by the HRC Foundation

Last Updated 6/12/22

In an HRC Foundation analysis of over 2,100 full-time LGBTQ+ women workers (including both cisgender and transgender women, analyzed together),the median weekly earnings for LGBTQ+ women was $875. This amounts to approximately 79% of the $1,108 median weekly wage a man working full-time earns in the United States as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 Put another way, LGBTQ+ women earn about 79 cents for every dollar that the average man in the United States earns. This wage gap is larger than that seen for women overall in the United States, who earn an average of 83 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Based on this estimate, in order to earn as much in a year as an average man working full-time, LGBTQ+ women in the U.S. have to work 55 additional days into the following year. For 2021, this means LGBTQ+ women had to work until March 18th, 2022 to earn what the average US man earned in 2021.

Bisexual+ women, Black and Latina LGBTQ+ women, and women at the intersection of these identities (e.g. bisexual+ Latina women) report even larger wage gaps – and had to work even further into 2022 to catch up with the average U.S. man.

Introduction

Research has repeatedly found evidence of a wage gap in the United States between men and women, with women, on average, consistently earning less than men. This gap has persisted for decades, across employment sector, age, and geography, and is so ingrained that even the massive shock of the Covid-19 pandemic to the labor market was unable to overcome it – and in some cases, made it worse.

As with many other socioeconomic factors, the wage gap differs across demographic groups, with those from marginalized communities experiencing substantially larger wage gaps. In 2021, one estimate found that women overall earned 83 cents for every dollar earned by men; compared to every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, Black women earned just 57 cents, and Latina women earned just 49 cents.

In previous research into the LGBTQ+ wage gap released by the HRC Foundation, LGBTQ+ workers overall earned 90 cents for every dollar earned by the average worker in the U.S., whereas LGBTQ+ women earned 87 cents for every dollar earned by the average worker in the U.S. Larger gaps were seen for transgender women (60 cents on the dollar), non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, and two-spirit workers (70 cents on the dollar), and Black (85 cents on the dollar) and Latina (72 cents on the dollar) LGBTQ+ women. However, as this research focused on identifying the LGBTQ+ wage gap overall, it compared LGBTQ+ workers to all U.S. workers – including workers of all genders–precluding understanding of a wage gap as typically measured, which compares women to men.

Based on these findings, we build on our previous research to dive deeper into the wage gap for LGBTQ+ women,2 relative to U.S. men, looking at differences across sexual identity, race/ethnicity and the intersection of the two.

LGBTQ+ Women’s Pay Gap by Race

LGBTQ+ women from each racial/ethnic background earned less than the average American man (see Appendix for estimated median wages, including surrounding confidence intervals for these estimates, as well as estimated “Equal Pay Day” for all groups). Black and Latina LGBTQ+ women both earned less than White LGBTQ+ women, and less than LGBTQ+ women overall. Subsequently, the wage gap for these women relative to the average working man in the U.S. is larger than that seen for LGBTQ+ women overall.

For example, Latina LGBTQ+ women reported a median weekly earning of $720 – approximately 65% of the median wages for U.S. men overall. Meaning that, for 2021, Latina LGBTQ+ women had to work until May 9, 2022 to earn as much as a U.S. man earned in 2021.

Even among the highest earning racial/ethnic groups, a wage gap still emerged: White LGBTQ+ women and Asian (American) / Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander (AANHPI) LGBTQ+ women both earn more than LGBTQ+ women as a whole – earning $962 and $1000 a week, respectively – yet each earn less than the average U.S. man.

90 cents Asian American / Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander (AANHPI) LGBTQ+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

87 cents White LGBTQ+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

77 cents Black LGBTQ+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

65 cents Latina LGBTQ+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man


LGBTQ+ Women’s Pay Gap by Sexual Identity

Similarly, LGBTQ+ women, regardless of sexual identity, all earned less than the average man.

This was most apparent for bisexual+ women (those who identified as bisexual or “bisexual plus”), who earned just $750 a week – or approximately 68 cents for every dollar a U.S. man earns. Queer, pan, demi, and omnisexual women (QPDO; analyzed together; $896/week) fared a bit better, though still earned around 80 cents for every dollar earned by a U.S. man.

Lesbian / gay women earned approximately $962 a week – equivalent to that of White LGBTQ+ women, and higher than LGBTQ+ women as a whole. Though they still face a wage gap, earning 87 cents for every dollar earned by the average man, this wage gap is smaller than that seen for women as a whole, suggesting a potential protective effect of being lesbian or gay, relative to other sexual identities.

87 cents Lesbian/ gay women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

81 cents Queer, pan, demisexual, and omnisexual women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

68 cents Bisexual+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man


Lesbian/Gay women’s wage gap, by race/ethnicity

The finding that the wage gap was smallest for lesbian/gay women persisted across race/ethnicity: for each racial/ethnic group, the wage gap experienced by lesbian/gay women was smaller than that for same-race/ethnicity women of any other sexual identity.

This was most apparent for AANHPI lesbian/gay women, who were the only group to outearn men, earning $1200 a week–or $1.08 for every dollar earned by a man. This parallels findings in the general U.S. population that AANHPI women outearn men in general, though there is considerable variation in the average wages earned by different racial/ethnic groups within the AANHPI community.

White lesbian/gay women, though earning less than the average man, still outearned LGBTQ+ women, reporting a median wage of $1000 – translating to a smaller wage gap than LGBTQ+ women and U.S. women as a whole (90 cents, versus 79 cents and 83 cents, respectively). Black lesbian/gay women also outearned LGBTQ+ women, though to a lesser degree than White lesbian/gay women, reporting a median wage of $950, or 86 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

Latina lesbian/gay women were the only group to not outearn LGBTQ+ women, reporting a median wage of $720– 65 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

$1.08 AANHPI Lesbian/Gay women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

90 cents White Lesbian/Gay women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

86 cents Black Lesbian/Gay women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

65 cents Latina Lesbian/Gay women

earn for every dollar earned by a man


Bisexual+ women’s wage gap, by race/ethnicity

Racial/ethnic wage disparities seen for LGBTQ+ women overall persisted – and were, in fact, magnified – among bisexual+ women specifically. For all race/ethnicities, bisexual+ women earned far less than the average man and substantially less than same-race/ethnicity LGBTQ+ women of other sexual identities.

White bisexual+ women earned a median weekly wage of $831 – translating to a wage gap of 75 cents for every dollar a US man earns; among White women, bisexual+ women were the only sexual identity group not to outearn LGBTQ+ women as a whole.

Wages dropped even further for Black bisexual+ women, who with a median weekly earning of $700, earned only 63 cents for every dollar earned by a working man.

AANHPI bisexual women reported weekly earnings of $667, which was substantially lower than wages reported by AANHPI women of other sexual identities (ranging from $1000 - $1200). Overall, AANHPI bisexual+ women earned just 60 cents to the dollar – meaning they had to work until May 25, 2022 to earn what a average U.S. man earned in 2021.

Finally, Latina bisexual+ women earned only 50 cents for every dollar a US man earns – the lowest wage reported for any group included in this analysis. Put another way, a Latina bisexual+ woman would have to work until June 24, 2022 – halfway through the year – to earn what a man earned in 2021.

60 cents AANHPI Bisexual+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

75 cents White Bisexual+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

63 cents Black Bisexual+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

50 cents Latina Bisexual+ women

earn for every dollar earned by a man


Queer, pansexual, demisexual, omnisexual women’s wage gap, by race/ethnicity

As with bisexual+ women, the racial/ethnic wage disparities seen for LGBTQ+ women overall persisted among queer, pan, demi, and omnisexual (QPDO) women, though wage gaps were much smaller than that seen for bisexual+ women (though not as small as gaps seen for lesbian/gay women).

For example, the wage gap was smallest for AANHPI QPDO women (who earned 90 cents for every dollar earned by a man), and largest for Latina QPDO women (who earned 63 cents for every dollar earned by a man). White and Black women fell in between, reporting wage gaps of, respectively, 87 cents and 81 cents.

90 cents AANHPI QPDO women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

87 cents White QPDO women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

81 cents Black QPDO women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

63 cents Latina QPDO women

earn for every dollar earned by a man

Conclusion

Our findings provide the first evidence that the gender wage gap persists among LGBTQ+ women, with LGBTQ+ women consistently under-earning relative to U.S. men. Using self-reported wage data from over 2,100 LGBTQ+ women (cisgender and transgender women included), we found that the median weekly wage for LGBTQ+ women was $875 a week – reflecting a wage gap of approximately 79 cents for every dollar earned by an average U.S. man (who earned a median weekly wage of $1,108). This was a larger wage gap than that seen for women overall in the general population (83 cents). This wage gap persisted across race/ethnicity, sexual identity, and the intersection of the two – though there was some nuance.

The wage gap was particularly pronounced for bisexual+ women, who earned just 68 cents for every dollar earned by the average U.S. man, a much larger wage gap than that observed for lesbian or gay women (87 cents) and QPDO women (81 cents). This parallels previous findings that bisexual women are more likely to be living in poverty and face heightened economic insecurity. Within each racial/ethnic group, bisexual+ women reported the lowest wages/highest wage gap than same-race/ethnicity women of different sexual identities. For example, AANHPI bisexual+ women reported weekly earnings of $667, compared to $1000 or more among AANHPI women of other sexual identities. Taken together, it seems that, bisexual+ identity, alongside race/ethnicity, is largely driving the wage gap – and further adds weight to findings that there is something unique about the stigma, discrimination, and biphobia associated with bisexuality which confers economic risk.

In addition, we found that Latina LGBTQ+ women consistently reported the lowest wages, suggesting that, Latina ethnicity, rather than sexual identity, may be the primary driver of the wage gap for this group. Regardless of sexual identity, Latina LGBTQ+ women reported substantially lower wages than LGBTQ+ women from all other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Latina women’s wages were also fairly consistent across sexual identity, hovering around $700/week for all identities with the exception of bisexual+ Latina women, who earned $550/week –the lowest wage reported for any group in the sample. In comparison, Black LGBTQ+ women’s wages ranged from $700/week (Black bisexual+ women) to $950/week (Black lesbian/gay women).

Identifying as lesbian/gay, on the other hand, was associated with higher weekly earnings relative to LGBTQ+ women broadly, as well as both bisexual and QPDO women. The wage gap they experienced – 87 cents for every dollar earned by the average man – was also smaller than that previously reported for US women as a whole (83 cents). For White lesbian/gay women, the wage gap was even smaller, dropping to 90 cents on the dollar, highlighting how even within LGBTQ+ women, intersecting spheres of privilege (in this case, a majority racial/ethnic identity and, seemingly, a lesbian/gay sexual identity) can confer economic security.

Lastly, this analysis presents the first known estimates of the wage gap among QPDO women. QPDO woman, reporting a median weekly wage of $896, earned less than working lesbian and gay women, but more than bisexual+ women, translating to a wage gap of 81 cents for every dollar earned by the average U.S. man. As the proportion of people–particularly younger people – identifying as queer, pansexual,and omnisexual continues to rise, and identities such as demisexual continue to emerge, elucidating disparities in these understudied groups will continue to gain in importance.

It should be noted that this research is not without its limitations. Firstly, this study does not include part-time or unemployed workers in wage estimates, instead utilizing BLS’s categorization of full-time workers only. Given that LGBTQ+ women, and bisexual and transgender women in particular, are significantly more likely than cisgender heterosexual peers to be working part time or unemployed (particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic), if these wages were to be included, it’s likely the wage gap would have been even larger than observed here.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, owing to sample size limitations, we are unable to explore the wage gap separately for transgender and cisgender LGBTQ+ women. Previous research conducted by the HRC Foundation found that transgender women earned substantially less than LGBTQ+ women overall (median weekly wages = $600 versus $875, respectively), whereas previous research by The Williams Institute found that transgender women were substantially more likely to be living in poverty than cisgender LGBQ+ women. As a result, our findings mask what are likely to be substantial differences in wages between cisgender and transgender LGBTQ+ women, with transgender women and transgender BIPOC women likely earning substantially less.

Finally, owing to the fact that the Current Population Survey (CPS), which serves as the basis for the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates of national wages, does not capture sexual orientation or gender identity, we are only able to draw comparisons to all U.S. men, rather than cisgender, heterosexual men specifically. As a result, this comparison group (men) includes an unknown number of GBTQ+ men, complicating interpretation of results–particularly since findings are mixed on whether cisgender queer men earn less or more than cisgender, heterosexual men (though transgender men have been found to earn less).

Our results are descriptive and cross-sectional–and thus we are unable to determine the reasons underlying this wage gap. One such reason may be LGBTQ+ adults’ younger ages, with younger age groups substantially more likely to be openly LGBTQ+, and thus lower wages reflect earlier career stages. Other reasons may be differences in choice of job sector, as prior research has found that LGBTQ+ adults are overrepresented in industries such as retail, hospitality, and education which typically are some of the lowest paid sectors. A recent study of recent LGBTQ+ college graduates found that LGBTQ+ young adults earned about 22% less than cisgender, heterosexual adults in the first decade after college–and that about half of this gap could be explained by differences in job sectors.

Most importantly, the role of stigma and discrimination cannot be ignored. It was only in 2020, with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was ruled illegal, meaning that many LGBTQ+ adults have lived large portions of their career–and wage earning potential–without legal protections from being fired or denied raises or promotions. In a survey conducted just prior to the Bostock ruling, over one-third (36%) of LGBTQ+ workers stated they had experienced discrimination in the workplace, a quarter (29%) of whom stated that this discrimination had significantly impacted their financial well-being. And even in the presence of employment protections and non-discrimination policies, many LGBTQ+ workers still report experiencing anti-LGBTQ+ biases, with one report finding that almost half (45%) of LGBTQ+ workers feeling that enforcement of this policy is “dependent on their supervisor’s own feelings towards LGBTQ people.” It remains to be seen how employment protections will impact the wage gap in the long run.

Our findings–and our study’s limitations–highlight the need to expand data collection efforts on federal population surveys to include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (SOGIE) measures. These results are averages–meaning that they do not reflect the lived experience and economic status of all LGBTQ+ women. There are many lesbian/gay women living in poverty and facing high levels of stigma and discrimination, even as lesbian/gay women as a whole report higher wages than LGBTQ+ women of other sexual identities. There are many bisexual women who do not encounter biphobia, and who earn far more than the median reported for bisexual women as a whole. There are also likely differences across a wide range of sociodemographic factors–owing to sample size in our dataset, we are unable to measure wage gaps separately by workplace sector, age, or geography. and thus, by not stratifying, we are likely masking differences within the LGBTQ+ community with regard to the wage gap. Additional studies are needed to uncover the nuances of the LGBTQ+ women’s wage gap–and additional and expanded data collection efforts are needed to allow these studies to occur.


1 Median weekly wage for all men working full-time (35+ hours in a non-farmworker job in the public or private sector), for 2021 Q3, as reported on April 15th, 2022 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Usual weekly earnings of wage and salary workers first quarter 2022 (USDL-22-0624)

2 Due to sample size limitations, we are unable to report findings separately for transgender and cisgender women across race/ethnicity and sexual identity, and thus analyzed transgender and cisgender women (as well as those who identifed as “woman” + another gender identity such as non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, two-spirit, gender non-conforming, questioning, or who selected the category “something else”) together as a single “LGBTQ+ women” group (see the Appendix for more details on how respondents were categorized).

A Call to Action

What should policymakers do to promote pay equity?

  • Support policy and legislation that will strengthen existing protections and further combat discriminatory practices.

  • Check out these 10 essential actions to promote pay equity.


What should employers do to promote pay equity?

  • Include employment nondiscrimination policy that includes both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” across all operations.

  • Institute transparency policies on pay which are a pathway to identification of pay inequalities.

  • Ensure benefits packages are inclusive of both legal spouses and domestic partners, to prevent inequalities in benefit offerings.

  • Do an annual assessment of the collected pay data by sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity to ensure that your company is using the data to drive decision-making (e.g., formulation of leadership development programs and other policy development to combat the wage gap).

Additional Resources to Learn More

To learn more about the LGBTQ+ Wage Gap, as well as disparities in poverty and other aspects of economic well-being experienced by the LGBTQ+ community see:

Methods

Wages for LGBTQ+ women reflect self-reported median weekly earnings for full-time (35 or more hours/week), non-farm worker employees employed in the public or private sector, as reported by 2,123 LGBTQ+ women enrolled in the 2021 LGBTQ+ Community Survey, a nonprobability sample of over 23,000 LGBTQ+ adults globally, and 15,000 in the United States, conducted during May and June 2021 by Community Marketing and Insights. For the purpose of this analysis, sample size precludes us from further stratifying between cisgender and transgender LGBTQ+ women by other demographics such as race, so they are collapsed and analyzed together as a single group (“LGBTQ+ women”) throughout. Wage estimates for U.S. men reflect median weekly earnings for full-time workers, defined using the same criteria as in the LGBTQ+ Community Survey, and come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the third quarter of 2021, as reported as of April 15, 2022.

Additional information on the methodology can be found in the methodology appendix document.

The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ+ community.
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