Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



In 2007, 12.5% of Americans were officially counted as poor by the United States Census Bureau. People from every region, race, age, and sex are counted among our nation’s poor, where ―poor‖ is defined as living in a family with an income below the federal poverty level. In contrast, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people are invisible in these poverty statistics. This report undertakes the first analysis of the poor and low-income lesbian, gay, and bisexual population. The social and policy context of LGB life provides many reasons to think that LGB people are at least as likely—and perhaps more likely—to experience poverty as are heterosexual people: vulnerability to employment discrimination, lack of access to marriage, higher rates of being uninsured, less family support, or family conflict over coming out. All of those situations could increase the likelihood of poverty among LGB people.

In this report, we analyze data from three surveys to compare poverty (as defined by the federal poverty line) between LGB and heterosexual people: Census 2000, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), and the 2003 & 2005 California Health Interview Surveys (CHIS).

We find clear evidence that poverty is at least as common in the LGB population as among heterosexual people and their families.

  • After adjusting for a range of family characteristics that help explain poverty, gay and lesbian couple families are significantly more likely to be poor than are heterosexual married couple families.
  • Notably, lesbian couples and their families are much more likely to be poor than heterosexual couples and their families.
  • Children in gay and lesbian couple households have poverty rates twice those of children in heterosexual married couple households.
  • Within the LGB population, several groups are much more likely to be poor than others. African American people in same-sex couples and same-sex couples who live in rural areas are much more likely to be poor than white or urban same-sex couples.
  • While a small percentage of all families receive government cash supports intended for poor and low-income families, we find that gay and lesbian individuals and couples are more likely to receive these supports than are heterosexuals.


This report was made possible through generous grants from the Arcus Foundation and the Ford Foundation.



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