LGBT Women Are Poorer and Less Healthy Than Other Americans

Survey finds that the persistent gender pay gap and the lack of a need for birth control play into the disparity.

(Photo: Courtney Keating/Getty Images)

Aug 26, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Hayley Fox is a regular contributor to TakePart who has covered breaking news and the occasional animal story for public radio station KPCC in Los Angeles.

"The greatest wealth is health," goes the saying, but one group is lacking in both areas: the women of the LGBT community.

Lesbians as well as bisexual and transgender women report more financial instability and worse health than not only LGBT men but also straight men and women, according to a Gallup well-being study released this week.

“Women [in the study] have this more significant financial disadvantage probably because they’re getting doubly the effects of being LGBT and being women,” said Gary Gates, author of the study.

This double whammy of sorts is due to a confluence of factors working against them. Namely, LGBT women are exactly that: women, and they are subject to the male-female salary gap, just like their straight counterparts, said Susan Cochran, a professor at the UCLA School of Public Health. This gap exists even among minimum wage jobs, where women are paid 13 percent less than men.

Many LGBT women are less likely to live with a partner, so they don’t reap the financial benefits that come with a two-adult household, such as shared expenses and dual incomes, said Cochran.

“At the end of the day, they just earn less,” she said. “And they earn less over longer periods of time."

The Gallup study, which is based on more than 80,000 interviews conducted over the first half of 2014, looks at five basic areas of well-being: sense of purpose, community involvement, physical health, financial stability, and social interactions.

Only 27 percent of LGBT women in the study reported thriving financially, compared with 39 percent of straight women and 40 percent of straight men. Financial well-being was determined based on a variety of survey questions about standard of living, the ability to afford basic necessities, and amount of financial worry.

An LGBT woman’s monetary struggle doesn’t just mean budget vacations and smaller homes; these shortfalls in funding can have serious repercussions when it comes to health. LGBT men and women are less likely to have health insurance or the financial means to pay for medical care, according to Gallup research released Tuesday. Twenty-five percent of LGBT adults reported not having enough money to pay for health care needs in the last year, while only 17 percent of heterosexual adults reported this problem.

It is LGBT women who may need health care the most. They smoke and drink more than their heterosexual counterparts, and bisexual females often struggle with weight and psychological issues, according to the 2013 National Health Interview Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The health risks of LGBT women are compounded by their being less likely to have regular doctor visits.

“For women, health care is often organized around the need for birth control,” said Cochran. “That’s one way in which women are pulled routinely into health care.”

LGBT women don’t often have a need for birth control, and they are also less likely to raise kids, said Cochran, which is the other factor that may draw women to a doctor’s office. LGBT women are nearly twice as likely to lack a personal doctor than heterosexual women. This may be why only 24 percent of of LGBT women in the well-being survey reported “thriving” when it comes to physical health, compared with 36 percent of heterosexual women.

So although all signs point to progress for the LGBT community, from the recent sweep of gay marriage victories to President Barack Obama’s executive order barring discrimination, there are lingering stigmas that restrict real equality. The key to addressing these discrepancies is through data, said Gates: collecting more information about people's sexual orientation and gender identity and how it relates to their overall well-being.

“While social acceptance of LGBT Americans has improved in this country, the LGBT community still too frequently experiences discrimination and stigma that negatively affects its financial, physical, and emotional health,” Gates said in a statement.