updated: 19 August 2003
What percentage of the population is gay?
Introduction and caveat
This question is virtually unanswerable, firstly because there is very little good data. Other than the United States, there have been very few demographic studies asking such a question in other countries. Furthermore, studying this subject is extremely tricky for 4 big reasons:
These above-mentioned difficulties must be borne in mind when reading further about demographic studies. Below are some useful URLs.
What is the purpose of asking how many people in a population is gay? Certainly, it is a minority, however one defines it, but does it matter whether it is x% or y%?
Is respect for a minority, their liberties and rights, to be calibrated based on numbers? Do people become less equal in law and in our conscience, the fewer they are?
The Sikh community in Singapore numbers less than 1% of our population. We make exceptions to our motorcycle helmet laws and military uniform regulations, in deference to their customs and beliefs. When the Sikh community celebrated the opening of their new Central mosque in 2002, the Prime Minister officiated, and wore a turban as a sign of respect.
(note: a simple websearch will yield many websites discussing this subject that are maintained by anti-gay organisations, mostly of a US Christian persuasion. Their purpose is often to highlight the lower range of figures, to dispute the higher figures and to suggest that homosexual persons are too few to be accorded equal rights.)
This webpage of the San Francisco Public Library gives a brief overview of the difficulties of interpretation of data, and a summary of some important studies.
This site gives a summary of various demographic studies to 1999. Smith (1991) classified 5-6% of adults as homosexual or bisexual since age 18. Taylor (1993) found more than 4% of men aged 16-50 and more than 3% of women in the same age group reporting a same-sex sexual partner in the previous five years.
Laumann et al (1994) found that 9% of men and 4% of women reported having engaged in at least one same-gender sexual activity since puberty. Given the identity category choices of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or something else, 2.8% of men and 1.4% of women surveyed reported "some level of homosexual identity."
Binson et al (1995) showed 5.3% of men reporting sexual activity with a same-gender partner since age 18. and 6.5% of men reporting sex with men during the previous five years. The highest prevalence was found the 12 largest cities (14.4% since age 18) and among "highly educated" White males (10.8%).
Sells et al (1995) reported 6.2% of males and 3.6% of females with "sexual contact with someone of the same sex only or with both sexes in the previous five years," and 20.8% of U.S. males and 17.8% of U.S. females with some homosexual behavior or some homosexual attraction since age 15.
Gonsierek et al (1995) reviewed the literature and critiqued surveys of homosexual activity from Kinsey in 1948 to the 1994 study by Laumann, et al. Because of the possible risks involved in self-disclosure, it is posited that the recurrent 2-5% for same-gender sexual behavior in the studies reviewed represents a minimum figure. They suggest that the current prevalence of predominant same-sex orientation is 4-17%.
This webpage reports the findings of a study by Bagley and Tremblay of 750 males Calgary, a small city in Canada, aged 18 to 27. They found that 14% had had male-male sex, 5.9% identified as homosexual and 6.1% identified as bisexual.
This webpage summarises the findings of a report by RAND's National Defense Research Institute, for the US Dept of Defense. This study did not involve new research, but an analysis of those studies which, in the opinion of the analysts, conformed to high methodological standards. These included:
This webpage gives a summary of the National Health and Social Life Survey conducted in 1992 by the National Opinion Research Center (University of Chicago). Based on a random sample of 3,432 U.S. residents, it found that 2.8% of men and 1.4% of women self-identified as gay. The study also found that in the 12 largest metropolitan areas, gay-identified men were 10.2% higher than in the suburbs, (corresponding figure for women was 2.1% higher).
This webpage discusses the study entitled The Sexual Behaviour of Men in the United States, released by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in 1992. It received much media attention because it only 1% of its participants identified as gay, well below other studies.
This webpage is from the Tasmanian Department of Education. It includes an interesting paragraph:
This webpage mentions a study by Smith A, Rissel C, Richters J, et al. Sex in Australia: sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience among a representative sample of adults. Aust N Z J Public Health 2003; 27: 138-145.
See also the abstract of this study. It was a telephone survey, asking people intimate details about their sexual identity and sexual experiences!
The report’s conclusion was that far more people had same-sex-attraction or experience than numbers identifying as gay or lesbian might suggest. And since it was a telephone survey, one might suspect that there could have been substantial under-reporting.