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  • Katica Roy

The Double Bias: The Forgotten Costs of Gender Inequity on Lesbian Couples

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Lesbian couples face a double bias because there are two women in a couple. They experience not only an uphill battle as women individually, but collectively once they’re in a relationship.

There is an assumption that lesbian couples — couples with two women — would suffer a double gender bias, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, lesbian women have a wage premium, earning on average 9 percent more than heterosexual women.

Unfortunately, that’s only half the story. The other half is that they still are making less than heterosexual men and thus experiencing the pay gap in a different, but still equally important way as heterosexual women.

When we address the double bias, we take a giant step forward for all women.

The Development of the Double Bias

There are many aspects that contribute to the double bias.

  • Employers are 30-percent less likely to request an interview from a woman perceived as LGBTQ based on her resume compared to one perceived as heterosexual

  • The majority of countries in the world do not have laws prohibiting employment discrimination because of sexual orientation

  • There is no federal law protecting employees from sexual orientation discrimination in the United States and only 28 states have state-level protection

As a result, the median household income for married lesbian couples is $80,755, compared to $85,581 for heterosexual married couples, a 6-percent gap.

Is there a Solution to the Problem?

Companies should care about these numbers if they are in the business of boosting financial outcomes (which they are). Time and again, researchers have demonstrated that inequity diminishes productivity, job satisfaction and the mental and physical health of all employees. Additionally, closing the gender equity gap for all women is a step forward in leveling the economic playing field for all.

So, what do those solutions look like?

Implement federal and state laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation

One-fifth of LGBTQ employees have experienced discrimination when applying for jobs, from verbal abuse to unjust firing. Just as we have federal and state laws in place to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, similar legislation is necessary to increase opportunities for LGBTQ employees.

Recognize gender intersectionality

Gender intersectionality is when a person’s gender is coupled with another diverse class such as sexual orientation or race or ethnicity. Gender intersectionality, on average, puts women who represent two or more diverse classes even farther behind. The impacts of closing the pay gap have even more power in the lives of LGBTQ women.

For example, if we eliminate the pay gap for lesbian couples overall, it would reduce their poverty rate from 7.9 percent to 5.4 percent. And, it’s even greater for lesbian African American and Hispanic couples, whose poverty rates would fall from 24.7 percent to 16.9 percent and 9.2 percent to 7.2 percent, respectively.

Recognize and Address the “Wife Penalty”

Lesbian women who had previously lived with male partners make 9.5 percent less than those who had never lived with a male partner and lesbian women as a whole make more than heterosexual women. This is often attributed to the equal distribution of childcare and housework which occurs in same-sex couples, which allows both individuals to focus on their careers and therefore earn a higher income. Higher attention to this “wife penalty” and an increase in equal distribution of housework and childcare would benefit both lesbian women with prior male partners and heterosexual women with male partners while simultaneously increasing economic output by 5.4 percent per hour.

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