Why you should care
You thought lesbians got short shrift on everything but cute girlfriends. Wrong!
Are you being discriminated against at work? No, this isn’t a cue for debate. Check your paycheck. Your boss may be able to camouflage his sexist mindset and your co-workers could secretly harbor racist views, but not being paid as much as someone else for the same job? Well, that’s pretty straightforward.
No one is surprised that women earn less than men, that Blacks and Latinos make less than white folks or that gay men and transgender people make less than their heteronormative friends. Yet there’s one minority group that flies in the face of conventional wisdom with a positive wage gap: lesbians.
Lesbians in Western countries suffer many types of discrimination, but being underpaid is not one of them. A new study by the University of Melbourne and San Diego State University found:
Lesbians out-earn heterosexual women by at least
Gay men, however, earn around 20 percent less than their heterosexual counterparts.
Turns out lesbians are better at “leaning in.” So says Nick Drydakis, co-author of the study and senior lecturer in economics at the University of Anglia, who suggests this is because lesbians often know early in life that they will not marry into a traditional household where a male could provide for them. So they invest more in themselves, study longer than heterosexual women and make more career-oriented decisions.
Good for them, right? Not necessarily. While the lesbian pay premium is certainly good news for many hardworking women-loving women, it may also be due to the systematic discrimination against other groups. Mothers, for example, earn less than childless women. And lesbians have fewer children than heterosexual married women. “This might make employers more interested in promoting lesbians, who are less likely to move in and out of the labor market,” Drydakis says.
He also suggests that employers, colleagues and consumers often favor personality traits traditionally associated with men — like ambition, authority and pragmatism. Lesbians might also benefit if they exhibit more of those attributes than their heterosexual counterparts or gay male co-workers.
Still, besides discrimination against mothers and stubborn gender clichés, the positive lesbian pay gap suggests that Sheryl Sandberg got one thing right: Whom you marry matters. Not to mention that marrying men is dangerous for your career. Research has found that the wage premium was lower for those lesbians who had previously been in heterosexual marriages. “This is because the typical household division of labor for married couples focuses on career advancement of men,” explains Jeffrey Waddoups, who conducted this particular study and is the graduate coordinator for economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
To be sure, lesbians still face other types of discrimination in and out of the workplace. And research indicates the marketplace continues to benefit primarily men or women who are perceived as being more “manly.” But that doesn’t mean heterosexual women and gay men can’t take a page from the lesbian book: Be assertive, stay longer in school and select a lifelong partner who understands career advancement is not a male privilege.
Those stupid blue-checked shirts are optional.