The Sexuality Pay Gap

By Jordan Daly


The existence of a gender pay gap is pretty well-established unless you’re a Men’s Rights Activist. It’s probably one of the few things you can get the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Council of Trade Unions and Workplace Gender Equality Agency to agree on.


However, you may not know about the sexuality pay gap in Australia.


The University of Melbourne revealed in 2015 that gay men earn a “gay pay gap” of around 20% less than heterosexual men, whereas lesbians earn a “lesbian wage premium” of around 33-40% more than straight women. However, the gender pay gap still applies: gay men still earn, on average, more than women of any sexuality.


The study took into account variations in personality and job characteristics. Therefore, the key explanations for the pay gap appear to be lifestyle choices and discrimination. Lesbians are less likely than heterosexual women to have children and will subsequently work longer hours. They’re also less likely to have their career progression interrupted by parental leave. However, often their hourly rate is similar to that of straight women – increased earning capacity is mostly due to working more, not making more per hour.


However, let’s not pretend workplace discrimination is dead. On average, the hourly wage and wage growth of gay men is far lower and slower than that of straight men. Lesbians with partners have a higher wage than those without and straight women with partners; this is referred to as the “wife penalty”. Meanwhile, gay men who are “observably gay” or live with a partner face larger “earning penalties” than those who are discreet or closeted, pointing to significant discrimination in terms of pay and promotions. This is especially true in the case of gay men and is interesting considering heterosexual men are more likely to be responsible for hiring, firing and promotions.


A researcher from the University of Sydney found that other studies conducted on the topic overseas have found fairly similar results. They largely agree on the existence of a sexuality wage gap, but dispute the specific gaps in earning proportions. The lesbian wage premium is contested, especially when taking into account the “wife penalty”.


Some further food for thought: at least some respondents would be closeted or not yet have come to terms with their sexuality. This would have skewed the results. Could there be an asexual or bisexual pay gap? What other axes of oppression have an influence on pay? Most importantly, what can we do about it?


Staying closeted is simply not a solution.


If you’re curious about the study, you can check out Andrea La Nauze’s original article in The Economic and Labour Relations Review 26(1), pp 60-81 or watch this space – similar research is currently being conducted at the University of Sydney.