Pay Equity is a Gay Man’s Issue Too

February 28, 2015 in General

In Melbourne’s Age newspaper, it has been disclosed that pay equity is also a gay man’s issue, as much as that of feminist demands for wage equality.   University of Melbourne economist Andrea La Nauze has authored Australia’s first study of how sexual orientation affects wages . It has revealed gay men get paid up to eighteen per cent less than straight counterparts. La Nause says that  the only apparent reason for the “substantial wage penalty” suffered by gay men is prejudice.

“The main take-home message from the paper is that Australian workers doing the same job seem to be paid differently because of their sexual preference,” she said. She also noted that the  findings match equivalent studies in Europe and the United States which have also identified a “robust and persistent” wage penalty for gay men. Her paper concludes:  ”There are grounds for concern that workers in Australia, particularly gay men, are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”

The gay/straight male wage disparity  identified by Ms La Nauze’s modelling is strikingly similar to the gender pay equity gap – the long standing gulf between average full-time earnings of men and women. Wages data released on Thursday showed the gender pay gap in Australia is now a record nineteen per cent. On average, a man working full-time earns nearly $300 a week more than a female full-timer. Strikingly though, Ms La Nauze found the negative pay gap experienced by gay men relative to their straight counterparts does not apply to lesbians and bisexual women . Instead, lesbians  enjoy a wage premium of up to 13 per cent compared with straight women. Ms La Nauze says one possible explanation is that lesbian workers benefit  because their employers have a perception that they are less likely to leave the workforce to have children than straight  women:

“If employers believe heterosexual women are more likely to have children, or are more likely to take on a higher proportion of child-rearing duties, and if employers believe this results in lower productivity, then heterosexual women may be penalised and receive lower wages than lesbian women,”

Overseas studies in other have also identified a modest wage advantage for lesbians. Ms La Nauze used data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to compare the wages of straight, lesbian and gay workers between 2001 and 2010. It analysed additional  factors such as  occupation and levels of education. Men in same-sex relationships experience a negative wage anomaly of between 8 – 18 per cent depending on the model. Women in same sex relationships earn a positive wage premium of between 0- 13 per cent.

“I sincerely hope that we do not live in a society that pays someone less for the same job because of their sexual preference.  I hope that the next paper I see on the issue finds that gay men do not face a wage penalty.”

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in Australia but La Nauze says improved enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws could be needed to counteract  the wage gaps she identifies. Better education and even targeted “incentive mechanisms” may also help.

“We should devote effort to finding out why differences in wages exist, whether there is direct or indirect discrimination along lines of sexual orientation and if so what can be done about it,” she said.

Her study, Sexual orientation–based wage gaps in Australia: The potential role of discrimination and personality,  is published in the The Economic and Labour Relations Review.

In the Sydney Star Observer (.05. 03.2015), Australian Marriage Equality chair Rodney Croome spoke about the issue of gay male pay equity:

[Even in the nineties] Studies from Ireland, the UK and the US were beginning to show that gay people have lower-than-average incomes because of prejudice and discrimination in the workplace. Yes, a small minority of visible, inner-city gay men in gay-friendly workplaces might have enviable incomes. But the overwhelming majority, living in the suburbs and working in conventional environments, still had pay that was prey to prejudice. [Croome] felt a responsibility to highlight these studies and challenge the myth of the pink dollar. That myth was camouflaging widespread workplace discrimination and gave anti-gay groups a free kick in their campaign to downplay gay disadvantage.    

Croome has some particular proposals about what to do in this instance:

Law reform is part of the solution. Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are not strong enough. We need a federal sexuality and gender identity discrimination law to send the strongest possible message to employers and managers that prejudice is no longer acceptable.   He goes on to say that Australian antidiscrimination laws have problems, given that they routinely feature too-broad exemptions for ‘religious’ organisations and employers, except in the case of Tasmania. Croome concludes:

Reducing the gay pay disparity involves cultural change in workplaces across the nation. It might seem like an almost impossible task to foster greater equity and inclusion in hundreds of thousands of diverse worksites, but it is already happening on an ad hoc basis in hospitals, police stations, old age homes, local government services and schools. These workplaces are implementing a variety of different programs funded through various sources. What they have in common is that we know they work, thanks to independent evaluation. The problem is lack of resources to implement them more widely and systematically. For this to change, governments and businesses need to be persuaded that discrimination is both morally wrong and bad for the bottom line. A workplace where there is prejudice and exclusion will not perform at maximum capacity.

Source: Matthew Wade:  ”The Gay Pay Gap: Men earn less but women earn more:” Melbourne Age: 27.02.2015:

Rodney Croome: “Reducing the gay pay disparity requires law reform and cultural change” Sydney Star Observer: 05.03.2015: 133625


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