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Why Lesbians Make More Money

The Careerist

March 15, 2016


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Cate-Blanchett-Article-201602241123If you want to make a bundle of money, the sure bet is to be a straight, white, married male. That's just a fact of life. But can you guess the next best thing? Answer: Being lesbian.

That's essentially the finding of Marieka Klawitter of the University of Washington who analyzed 29 studies on earnings and sexual orientation. Reports The Economist about Klawitter's research:

On average, [the studies] found a 9% earnings premium for lesbians over heterosexual women, compared with a penalty of 11% for gay men relative to straight men. This discrepancy has been borne out by research on America, Britain, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. Even after adjusting for the fact that lesbians are on average more educated than straight women, and less likely to have children, the gap persists.

A 9 percent bump over their straight sisters is nothing to sneeze at. What's more, lesbians' earning power seems to be escalating, considering that it was only a 6 percent premium back in 2011 when I first reported on this fascinating phenomenon.

It's not surprising that lesbians continue to do well, since same sex marriage is now legal and polls show increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians. But here's the paradox: Gay men aren't sharing in the bounty; Klawitter reports a whopping 11 percent earnings gap between them and their straight brothers. (In a 2007 study by The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, gay men reportedly made 10 to 32 percent less than straight men.)

What gives? Maybe both gender stereotypes and behavioral differences are in play. "Perhaps lesbians who are 'out' are more competitive than their heterosexual peers," surmises The Economist, adding that gay men, on the other hand, tend to show less competitive behavior.

The lesbian advantage/gay men disadvantage is most acute in the private sector. Reports The Economist:

A study Ms Klawitter published in 2011 found that gay men working in the public sector suffered a smaller penalty than those in the private sector, whereas lesbians enjoyed a premium in the private sector but none in the public sector.

The upshot, as I see it, is that old fashioned male traits, like competitiveness, aggressiveness and fanatic devotion to work, are still the gold standard in Corporate America. So despite all the talk about how professions such as law are changing—like implementing more family-friendly policies, valuing emotional intelligence and collaboration—what they truly want is the traditional alpha male working stiff: Someone who can work without distraction because there's always a little woman in the background taking care of the mess at home.

In the mind of the employer, lesbians fulfill that "masculine" stereotype. In fact, lesbians don't even have to exhibit macho traits to get the bump. The Economist says they "face positive discrimination, if employers promote them on the assumption that they will not have children and so devote more time to work than straight colleagues."

What's the takeaway in all this? Gender stereotypes may be harder to overcome than you think. It will probably take time—a lot of time—before cultural biases are eradicated.

In the meantime, it might be easier to just pretend you're lesbian.

vchen@alm.com

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About The Careerist

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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