Sunday, June 26, 2011

Estimating LGBT Proportions in the Population

A recent Gallup poll showed that most Americans estimate that at least one fifth of the population is gay or lesbian, with thirty-five percent believing that a quarter of the people are. In reality, more like 3.8 percent of people self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, according to a review of the data by researcher Gary J. Gates.

This tendency to overestimate the prevalance of homosexuality almost certainly reflects the focus on LGBT issues in the media, as citizens fight for their rights and come out of the closet, frequently attracting some publicity.

Here's Gallup's table:

They asked the question in 2002 separately for gay males and females.

People are not very good at estimating probabilities -- that's why things such as insurance and lotteries can exist, people overestimate the probabilities of rare events. These kinds of numbers are a better indicator of salience or the amount of attention an object receives than of its actual occurrence in the real world. And people these days are thinking about LBGT issues more than they used to, as marriage laws are debated and passed, as discrimination is revealed and stopped, as more people who are familiar in the media come out of the closet.

As Gallup says:
Americans' current collective estimate -- which is substantially higher than Gates suggests -- is likely driven more by perceptions and exposure than by scientific measurement or reality. Gallup previously found that a majority of Americans personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, though Gallup did not ask Americans how many gay or lesbian individuals they know, or whether they know more individuals now than they did before. Additionally, Americans tend to have difficulty estimating percentages of population groups whose numbers are more widely known. Gallup a decade ago found Americans estimating much larger U.S. black and Hispanic populations than what the U.S. Census Bureau reported for those groups. U.S. Adults Estimate That 25% of Americans Are Gay or Lesbian

It is kind of interesting to see how the estimates break down demographically and politically:
Americans with lower incomes and less education give the highest estimates, on average, of the U.S. gay and lesbian population, and far higher estimates than those with higher incomes and more education. Americans aged 18 to 29 give a higher average estimate than older Americans, and women give a far higher average estimate than men.

Democrats, liberals, and those who say they are socially liberal are also more likely to give higher estimates than those at the other end of the spectrum. However, the differences by political or ideological leanings are in most cases not as wide as those seen by demographic group.

For comparison, Gallup links to a review of surveys done by UCLA researcher Gary J. Gates, found HERE. Taking some bullets from the executive summary:
  • An estimated 3.5% of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and an estimated 0.3% of adults are transgender.
  • This implies that there are approximately 9 million LGBT Americans, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey.
  • Among adults who identify as LGB, bisexuals comprise a slight majority (1.8% compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay).
  • Women are substantially more likely than men to identify as bisexual. Bisexuals comprise more than half of the lesbian and bisexual population among women in eight of the nine surveys considered in the brief. Conversely, gay men comprise substantially more than half of gay and bisexual men in seven of the nine surveys.
  • Estimates of those who report any lifetime same-sex sexual behavior and any same-sex sexual attraction are substantially higher than estimates of those who identify as LGB. An estimated 19 million Americans (8.2%) report that they have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and nearly 25.6 million Americans (11%) acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction.

So more than a tenth of people sometimes feel sexually attracted to someone of their own sex, and about one in twelve have acted on those feelings, but only about one person in thirty actually identifies as gay or lesbian, and most of those are bisexual.

That means that approximately one person in fifteen has homosexual feelings but does not identify as gay or lesbian, implying that some bisexuals identify themselves as gay or lesbian and some do not. I suppose they just take their sexual feelings as they come, sometimes you like meat and sometimes you like potatoes, it is not a big deal one way or the other.

There are nearly a million people in our little suburban Maryland county, so we'll round to that and bring these numbers home. If we have representative proportions of LGBT residents then:
  • There are 3,000 transgender people in our county
  • We have 38,000 residents who identify themselves as LGBT
  • 110,000 people in our county have experienced or will experience sexual attraction to someone of their own sex
  • 82,000 people in Montgomery County have or will have engaged in sexual activity with someone of their own sex

There is nothing to be gained by either side of the debate exaggerating these numbers. LGBT people are a minority in the population, but they are still a lot of people and numbers large or small do not in any way justify discrimination against them. The overestimates that are common in the population reflect well-documented cognitive biases and are interesting but do not change the issue in any significant way.


Anonymous Robert said...

Of the men in my department, 60% are gay; of the men in the social studies department, 40% are gay; of the women, to my knowledge, none are.

June 26, 2011 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter Sprigg makes a big deal out of "self-identifying" as gay, but obviously nearly three times as many people have gay sex than there are people who call themselves gay. And it looks like most people who feel like having gay sex go ahead and do it. So why does he care so much what people call themselves?

June 26, 2011 12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of the men in my department, 60% are gay; of the men in the social studies department, 40% are gay; of the women, to my knowledge, none are."

thanks for admitting that public education is over-run by homosexuals, Robert

it's a big problem that needs to be addressed

June 27, 2011 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

How do things pan out where you work, darling? Or do you work? I'm sure everyone in your life is out to you.

I'm just saying the stats in Jim's article don't jive with my experience. Giving the current climate in this country, there can by no accurate data on the number of lgbt people around.

June 27, 2011 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

would never discuss such a thing on the internet, Robert

it's obvious, however, that gays are way over-represented in our largely failing public education system and it's not a new phenomenom

it accounts for much of the liberal indoctrination of our youth and the horrid decline of historical knowledge among our students

fortunately, the kids seem to recover when they enter the real world

June 27, 2011 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"fortunately, the kids seem to recover when they enter the real world"

and they do so given their sound education - unlike you, "Anonymous".

You have not convinced any of us in here that you are an educated person...despite your endless bloviating designed to give some credence to your schizophrenic, ego-boosting bleats.

Have you given any thought to joining the local chapter of "Trolls Anonymous"?

An addiction such as yours might be extremely difficult to cure, but it would be worth the effort. You might possibly turn out to be a respectable human being!

July 01, 2011 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the previous comment is so typical of the TTF mentality

all epithet and insult

signifying nothing

July 01, 2011 9:17 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Anonymous complains about epithets and insults? LOL.

July 03, 2011 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Response to "Anonymous"

Yuk, yuk!!

What does your Bible say about hypoctites?

July 03, 2011 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry...the word is hypocrites!

A major fault of yours, "Anonymous", is the inability to correct your many mistakes and slanders.

July 03, 2011 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, great faultless one!! Please give us more instruction in how to post on this site. No doubt the world will be saved by your insightful and perspicacious guidance, not to say what it will do to improve the patience and charity of us here on TTF

July 04, 2011 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, btw Anon, what DOES your Holy Book tell you about hypocrites

July 04, 2011 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me,oh Faultless One. I erroneously omitted a .

July 04, 2011 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and...a ? mark. What's the world coming to?

July 04, 2011 11:20 AM  

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