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Gay and Lesbian Families in the United States

Same-Sex Unmarried Partner Households

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Document date: August 22, 2001
Released online: August 22, 2001

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety, including ALL tables and figures, in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Introduction

The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau figures for same-sex unmarried partner households provide researchers and policy makers with a wealth of information about a previously unrecognized constituency. These numbers provide policy makers at every level of government compelling arguments for why they need to take care of the policy needs of gay and lesbian families as they live in nearly every corner of every county in America.

The notion that gay and lesbian people only live on the coasts in major urban areas has been dispelled by these U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The geographical diversity of where gay and lesbian families are living is striking. From big cities to small farming towns, from the deep South to the Pacific Northwest, gay and lesbian families are part of the American landscape.

These figures will change the debate for many Americans—from an abstract controversy read about in newspapers or seen in noisy debates on television to a discussion about real families, real people and real lives.

To date, the U.S. Census Bureau has only released counts of gay and lesbian coupled households, but as more information is released, we will be able to determine the number of children living in these households, income, racial profile, home ownership and other important demographics. These facts will help us dispel stereotypes and present a fuller, more accurate picture of the gay and lesbian family in America.

Release of 2000 Dat and Flaws in 1990 Comparisons

The U.S. Census Bureau has been releasing data throughout the summer on the basic composition of households in the United States. These data were collected from a 100 percent sample of the population and are designated by the Census Bureau as Summary File 1. The U.S. Census Bureau released these data in batches of states during June, July and August, with the final batch released on Aug. 22, 2001. From these data, it was possible to determine the numbers of households where the occupants described themselves as two people of the same sex whose relationship was defined as being "unmarried partners." Also, if two people of the same sex described themselves as in a spousal (legally married) relationship, the U.S. Census Bureau recategorized them as same-sex unmarried partners (two people of the same sex cannot be legally married). Thus, these data provide at least a superficial count of the number of gay or lesbian coupled households in the United States. Census 2000 counted 601,209 same-sex unmarried partner households in the United States. That is a 314 percent increase from 1990 when the census counted only 145,130 same-sex unmarried partner households.

The U.S. Census Bureau maintains that the 1990 and 2000 censuses cannot be compared because of flaws in the way they classified such households in 1990. In that case, when same-sex partner households identified themselves as being legally married, the Census Bureau in most instances changed the gender of the spouse. Such households were therefore counted as a heterosexual married couple. In the 2000 count, such couples were reclassified as unmarried partners. In effect, the U.S. Census Bureau is saying it undercounted the 1990 same-sex unmarried partner households and that comparing them to 2000 numbers would not be valid.

While we presume the flaws in the 1990 reclassification would have some impact on the total percentage increase in same-sex unmarried partner households, it is our view that Census 2000 does in fact reflect an actual increase over the 1990 count. This is due largely to more couples being willing to identify themselves in a federal survey as a result of a more favorable political climate.

Undercount

It is our view that the 2000 numbers for same-sex unmarried partner households are a dramatic increase from 1990, but the total number still represents an undercount of the actual number of gay or lesbian coupled households in the country. Possible explanations for this include continued prejudice and discrimination against gay people. In addition, despite efforts by the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, urging gay and lesbian couples to fill out the census form accurately, the questionnaire might have been confusing to some. In addition, the questionnaire did not ask the actual sexual orientation of the respondent so gay and lesbian households were determined by gender and relationship only. The U.S. Census Bureau did not count single gay or lesbian people, nor did it count those people in relationships but not living together in the same residence.

Studies on the total number of gay and lesbian people in the United States show a range from 2 percent to 10 percent of the total population. In the last three elections, the Voter News Service exit poll registered the gay vote between 4 percent and 5 percent. While concluding that the Census 2000 undercounted the total number of gay or lesbian households, for the purposes of this study, we estimate the gay and lesbian population at 5 percent of the total U.S. population over 18 years of age, (209,128,094). This results in an estimated total gay and lesbian population of 10,456,405. A recent study of gay and lesbian voting habits conducted by Harris Interactive1 determined that 30 percent of gay and lesbian people are living in a committed relationship in the same residence. Black, Gates, et. al2 find a similar figure in their study recently published in "Demography." Using that figure, we suggest that 3,136,921 gay or lesbian people are living in the United States in committed relationships in the same residence. Census 2000 counted 1,202,418 gay and lesbian people in committed relationships. Under the assumptions stated above, this represents an undercount of 62 percent.

States

In 2000, California, New York, Texas and Florida led the country in total number of same-sex unmarried partner households. However, when we examine the fraction of all coupled households (married and unmarried partners) that are gay and lesbian, the prevalence ranking is more geographically diverse.

  • Table #1 — State Totals and 1990 Comparisons
  • Table #2 — States Ranked by Percentage of Coupled Households (married and unmarried partners) That Are Gay or Lesbian
  • Figure #1 — Statewide Prevelence of Gay and Lesbian Couples

Counties

Gay and lesbian families live in 99.3 percent of all counties in the United States. This is in stark contrast to 1990 when the U.S. Census Bureau counted gay and lesbian families living in only 52 percent of U.S. counties. Again, we believe this rise is due to more gay and lesbian families willing to come forward and identify themselves in a federal survey.

  • Table #3 — Top 25 Counties Ranked by Percentage of Coupled Households (married and unmarried partners) That Are Gay or Lesbian
  • Table #4 — Counties with No Gay or Lesbian Couples

Metropolitan Statistical Areas

Metropolitan Statistical Areas are U.S. Census Bureau geographical regions comprised of areas in and around major cities.

  • Table #5 — Top 25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) Ranked by Percentage of Coupled Households (married and unmarried partners) That Are Gay or Lesbian
  • Table #6 — Bottom 25 MSAs Ranked by Percentage of Coupled Households (married and unmarried partners) That Are Gay or Lesbian
  • Table #7 — MSAs with 1 Million-Plus Populations Ranked by Percentage of Coupled Households (married and unmarried partners) That Are Gay or Lesbian

Tracts

A tract is a geographic designation that approximates a neighborhood, roughly 1500 households. We looked at the top 1 percent of tracts with the heaviest concentration of gay and lesbian couples among all coupled households (married and unmarried). The following table ranks Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in the top 1 percentile.

  • Table #8 — MSAs With the Most Tracts in the Top 1 Percent of Concentration of Gay and Lesbian Couples

Gay and Lesbian Rurla Households

Many gay and lesbian families live outside major metropolitan cities. Census 2000 reports 88,606 or 15 percent of gay and lesbian families are living outside Metropolitan Statistical Areas in rural settings. The following table looks at the top 25 counties with the highest percentage of coupled (married and unmarried partners) households that are gay or lesbian.

  • Table #9 — Top 25 Counties Outside of Metropolitan Statistical Areas with the Highest Percentage of Couples (married or unmarried partner) That Are Gay or Lesbian.

Summary of Key Figures

  • 601,209 total gay and lesbian families were reported by the 2000 U.S. Census. 304,148 gay male families, and 297,061 lesbian families.
  • In 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 145,130 total gay and lesbian families. 81,343 male, and 63,787 female. The 2000 numbers represent a 314 percent increase.
  • Gay and lesbian families live in 99.3 percent of all counties in the United States compared to 1990 when gay and lesbian families reported living in 52 percent of all counties. In 2000, only 22 of the 3,219 counties in the United States reported.
  • The Human Rights Campaign estimates that the 2000 U.S. Census count of gay and lesbian families could be undercounted as much as 62 percent.

Notes

1. "Out and Into The Voting Booth: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Voters in 2000," Gill Foundation, Harris Interactive, February 16, 2001 http://www.gillfoundation.com/gotv2000/index.htm

2. Dan Black; Gates, Gary; Sanders, Seth; Taylor, Lowell. "Demographics of the Gay and Lesbian Population in the United States: Evidence from Available Systematic Data Sources," Demography, Volume 37-No. 2, May 2000: 139-154.


Note: This report is available in its entirety, including ALL tables and figures, in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Cities and Neighborhoods | Families and Parenting | Race/Ethnicity/Gender


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