Study shows Americans overestimate the number of gay people in the US — with serious side effects

Study shows Americans overestimate the number of gay people in the US — with serious side effects
A crowd of people holding rainbow flags as they watch the 48th Annual Chicago Pride Parade on June 25 in Chicago G-Jun Yam/AP
A crowd of people holding rainbow flags as they watch the 48th Annual Chicago Pride Parade on June 25 in Chicago G-Jun Yam/AP

A new study published in the Journal of Homosexuality found that Americans tend to overestimate the number of gay and lesbian people in the U.S. — and people who do that are also less likely to support policies that ensure equal rights for LGBTQ people.

The study, co-authored by Don Haider-Markel and Mark Joslyn, two political scientists at the University of Kansas, used data showing that, in 2013, on average, people estimated gays and lesbians to make up around 23% of the population, according to a statement from the University of Kansas.

The real number, according to researchers, is somewhere between 3% and 10% of the population.

So what do those inflated estimates mean? According to this new study, people who overestimated the size of the gay and lesbian population in the U.S. were “less supportive of gay equality policies, such as legal same-sex marriage or employment protection,” Haider-Markel told Mic in an email on Tuesday.

Opponents of same-sex marriage rally at the Utah State Capitol, Jan. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City.
Opponents of same-sex marriage rally at the Utah State Capitol, Jan. 28, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Rick Bowmer/AP

“It’s not clear that overestimation poses a true danger, but we can say that, all other factors controlled for, individuals that provide higher estimates of the gay population are less likely to support gay equality.”

Even though same-sex marriage is now federal law, Haider-Markel said that a “significant minority” still opposes it — and the people in that minority “are more likely to be Republican, male, religious, be born again, heterosexual, less educated, rural and provide higher estimates of the size of the gay population,” Haider-Markel said.

The new research could have real implications for advocates trying to pass laws that protect LGBTQ people. Employment discrimination, for example, is still lacking in many parts of the country where it is still legal for employers to fire people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In this June 26, 2016, file photo, an onlooker holds a rainbow flag during the NYC Pride Parade in New York City.
In this June 26, 2016, file photo, an onlooker holds a rainbow flag during the NYC Pride Parade in New York City. Seth Wenig/AP

“I would suspect that people might be surprised at the fact that most of us are not very good at estimating the sizes of minority populations, and most of us tend to inflate the size of any minority population,” Haider-Markel said in a statement from the University of Kansas.

“Those who advocate for policy that protects minorities should educate the public about the size of the population under consideration.”