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Think Lesbian

Vivia Chen

January 4, 2011


Fotolia_13386107_XS Tired of that annoying pay gap between the sexes? (You know, the one where women make only about 83 percent of what men do.) Gals, try this quick fix: Go lesbian.

The reason: "Lesbians make about 6 percent more than heterosexual women when factors like race, education, profession, location, and number of children are accounted for," reports The New York Times.

Those findings are based on a 2009 study by economic professors at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Recently, the study has resurfaced, sparking discussions among women and gays about why lesbians have greater earning power.

One theory is that heterosexual women might be holding themselves back because they have (or expect to have) husbands with superior earnings. In the blog Dollars and Sex, Marina Adshade writes:

If a woman believes that she will eventually be married to a man who earns a higher income than she does, then she has less to gain from investing in human capital that will give her an advantage on the labor market. This human capital doesn’t just include formal education--we can control for that--it also includes a variety of unobservable skills that the market rewards with higher wages.

Women who never have any intention of marrying a man, though, and look forward to a future with a female spouse, have none of these incentives to underinvest.

The implication is that women might be contributing to their own income deficiency. The theory is that hetero women are apt (or conditioned) to take on more child care/household responsibilities than their mates, and put their careers on a slower track as a result.

But Grace Tsiang, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, e-mailed me with a different take. Tsiang says that she suspects that many of the lesbians in the survey have a traditional support system on the home front:

To examine only the wages of lesbian women who work is missing the point: It’s important to know, what is the partner of this woman doing? It’s been observed ruefully by single women with careers that “every professional woman could use a wife.”

I think that there may be a substantial number of professional women who are lesbians who benefit from having a partner in a supporting role. There is a wage premium for married males, and that component of it (which is supplied by a supportive partner) should also apply to working lesbians. Married men get health and longevity benefits from being in such stable relationships; there’s no reason that kick shouldn’t apply to working women with a supportive partner.

Interestingly, though, the wage advantage that lesbians enjoy don't seem to apply to gay men. Though gay men tend to be better educated than straight ones, they don't earn more. The reason, says blogger Joe Clark in Gay Money, is that gay men tend not to go into male-dominated fields and  often choose to work fewer hours.

So are lesbians on top of the heap because they are simply more macho than gay men and straight women?  Perhaps they've largely adapted to the dominant male culture--the one that puts work first. And since traditional male culture still rules, should anyone be surprised that mirroring the male corporate model works?

What do you see in the legal world?  Is there a lesbian premium at your office?

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

 Photo: Fotolia.com



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all LESBIANS are losers.

I'm not surprised that lesbians earn more on average than straight women.

Traditionally women have seen themselves primarily as a support for her husband and a caretaker at home.

Over time more and more women are opting to focus on their careers... but some prefer to stick with a more traditional role.

I think lesbians in general feel more free from social norms.

I can't imagine that the life a lesbian is easy with all the prejudice floating around. Perhaps lesbian women have become accustomed to being more aggressive in order to fight back?

This will be the first time I ever defend Vivia.

Funny, Sam, how you state it is inappropriate and discriminatory to recommend that someone "go lesbian," but it is undboutedly OK by you when someone who is gay or lesbian tries to get someone who is straight to come over to your side -which happens ALL THE TIME.

Discussing the gender wage gape and studying how that transfers to differences in pay based on sexual orientation is very interesting. However, I think it is inappropriate and discriminatory to recommend, even as a joke, that people "Go lesbian." Furthermore, what does it mean to Think Lesbian? You should really be more tasteful when writing about the LGBT community.

This is fascinating! My guess is it's because lesbian women are perceived as tougher and as not having to juggle work w/family as much -- regardless of the reality.

Well put Dirk!

Finally a realization here that pay disparities between the genders is likely a result of something besides invidious discrimination.

Unsurprisingly, the article misses the greater point that the women who marry guys end up with more money total due to transfer payments from those guys. "Go lesbian" is lousy advice, since the lesbians making the money are undoubtedly the butches who then turn over most of the money to the femmes.

In the end, being a straight, married woman is - as it has always been - the most lucrative deal out there for anybody - male, female, gay straight, swinger, hooker, or monger.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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