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Gay men, but not lesbians, targeted for job bias
Gay men who are partnered earn 23 percent less than married men

by Lori Wright
DURHAM, N.H. – Gay men working in management and traditional blue-collar, male-dominated jobs make less than straight men because they are discriminated against by their employers. This is the stunning finding from new research released Oct. 24 by the University of New Hampshire Whittemore School of Business and Economics.

According to the same study, lesbians do not experience similar discrimination in the labor market. Co-authors Bruce Elmslie (pictured), UNH professor of economics, and Edinaldo Tebaldi, former assistant professor of economics at UNH now at Bryant University, report their findings in the Journal of Labor Research in the article “Sexual Orientation and Labor Market Discrimination.”

According to the authors, gay men who are partnered earn 23 percent less than married men, and 9 percent less than unmarried heterosexual men who live with a woman. Discrimination is most pronounced in management and blue-collar, male-dominated occupations such as building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; construction and extraction; and production.

The authors also found that lesbians are not discriminated against when compared with heterosexual women. They conclude that while negative attitudes toward lesbians could affect them, lesbians may benefit from the perception that they are more career-focused and less likely to leave the labor market to raise children than heterosexual women. According to their study, 18.1 percent of lesbians have children, compared with 49.4 percent of straight women.

“Employers could reasonably infer that a lesbian applicant or current employee will have a stronger attachment to the labor force than will a heterosexual woman,” the authors said.

The researchers note that previous studies of attitudes of heterosexual men toward gay men and lesbians shows that the bias against gay men is much stronger. Other studies show that gay men are more likely to be the victim of violence because of their sexual identity than lesbians.

They cite a number of possible factors as to why gay men experience labor discrimination and lower wages in certain industries. There is strong evidence indicating discrimination is tied to employer and employee bias.

“Employers may disapprove of gay ‘lifestyles’ and act on this bias in making hiring decisions,” the authors said. Employers also may discriminate against gay men in response to the desires of the majority of employees. If employers consider mixing heterosexual and homosexual employees distracting and detrimental to productivity, the authors said the employers may consider it profitable to discriminate.

Gay men also may experience labor market discrimination because customers may not want to interact with them, thus influencing hiring practices. “If customers prefer to interact with heterosexual employees, the owner will act on the customers’ taste for discrimination,” the authors said.

Finally, discrimination may occur as a result of anti-gay attitudes associated with AIDS and misunderstanding as to how HIV is transmitted. Previous research shows that people with HIV/AIDS have higher rates of absenteeism from work. The authors theorize that biased employers may be reluctant to hire gay men because they are concerned about a loss of productivity if a worker becomes infected with HIV or develops AIDS.

“If employers perceive one group to be generally less productive or more costly than other groups, individual members of the negatively perceived group will receive lower wage offers regardless of their true characteristics,” the authors said.

In this study, employee/employer bias was the most prevalent and overwhelming indication of discrimination against gay men. If the discrimination was consumer-based, the discrimination would be more evident in the services industry where there is direct interaction between employees and customers. If the discrimination was tied to HIV/AIDS status, the distribution of discrimination would be more uniform across industries.

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