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social sciences

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Census 2000  
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Estimates of the size of the undercount vary. Gates and Ost suggest that the true size of the coupled gay and lesbian population is likely 25 percent higher than Census 2000 figures and could be as much as 50 percent higher.

Other Difficulties with Census Counts of Same-sex Unmarried Partners

While the existence of an undercount is quite likely, an equally relevant issue is the possibility that some portion of the same-sex unmarried partner couples might be incorrectly designated as such due to a miscoding of either the "unmarried partner" relationship status or the sex of one of the partners. There are a number of ways a household could be classified in the census data as a same-sex unmarried partner household even though it is not headed by a gay male or lesbian couple.

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One source of measurement error among the same-sex unmarried partner data from Census 2000 is likely a result of sex miscoding errors among heterosexual couples. It can be assumed that some very small fraction of the population makes an error when completing the census form and possibly miscodes a variety of responses, including the sex of the householder or the householder's "husband/wife" or "unmarried partner." Under Census 2000 editing procedures, all these miscoded couples would be included in the counts of same-sex unmarried partners.

Because the ratio between married couples and same-sex couples is so large (roughly 90 to 1), even a small fraction of sex miscoding among married couples adds a sizable fraction of heterosexual married couples to the same-sex unmarried-partner population, possibly distorting some demographic characteristics, particularly child rearing.

Mistakes in the designation of an unmarried partner could also cause errors. One form of error occurs when the person filling out the census form (the householder) does not have a spouse or unmarried partner in the household, but does have a child or other adult in the household living with an unmarried partner. For example, if a female householder classifies the female unmarried partner of her son as an "unmarried partner," then this household would be counted as a female same-sex unmarried partner, or lesbian, household.

While analysis of 1990 Census data suggests that this type of error has negligible effects on the quality of the data at a national level, it could be more common in analyses of certain communities where extended families are more likely to be living in the home, and households are larger. For example, Hispanic and Native American populations are more likely to have extended families living in the home. Communities with large Hispanic and Native American populations are therefore more susceptible to this type of error because there are proportionally more households where the error could occur.

Another form of measurement error could be language-based. Confusion may result when respondents fill out a census form not written in their native language or if the census enumerator translations of terms such as "unmarried partner" and "roommate" in other languages, particularly Spanish, do not have the same meanings as the English version. All households in the 50 states and the District of Columbia received English language forms, regardless of the predominant language spoken in either the household or the neighborhood. However, if a census form was not returned, most likely an enumerator who speaks local native languages would have visited the house and assisted the householder in filling out an English-language form.

Who Counts in the Census?

Many members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and community were left out of the census. The largest omission is single gay men and lesbians, who form a majority of the glbtq community. Likely more than half of all gay and lesbian individuals in the United States are not included in census data counting only same-sex couples. Bisexual and transgender individuals will sporadically appear in the data, but cannot be identified as such since there was no census question about sexual orientation or gender identity.


Despite these problems of undercounting and measurement errors, Census 2000 data on same-sex partners represent the most comprehensive source of data on gay and lesbian couples living in the United States. Lobbyists from gay/lesbian civil rights groups regularly use this information to attempt to convince congressional representatives that gay and lesbian people live, and most likely vote, in their districts. The Congressional Budget Office recently used the figures to assess the fiscal impact of same-sex marriage on the U.S. budget.

These data provide the first empirical evidence that gay and lesbian people live virtually everywhere in the United States and help to dispel stereotypes by presenting a more accurate picture of gay and lesbian families.

Gary J. Gates

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Badgett, M.V. Lee, and Marc A. Rogers. "Left Out of the Count: Missing Same-sex Couples in Census 2000." Amherst, Mass.: Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies (IGLSS), 2003.

Black, Dan, Gary J. Gates, Seth G. Sanders, and Lowell Taylor. "Demographics of the Gay and Lesbian Population in the United States: Evidence from Available Systematic Data Sources." Demography 37.2 (2000): 139-54.

Gates, Gary J., and Jason Ost. The Gay & Lesbian Atlas. Washington: Urban Institute Press, 2004.

Laumann, Edward O., John H. Gagnon, and Robert T. Michael. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

U.S. Census Bureau. "Census 2000 Basics." Washington, D. C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gates, Gary J.  
    Entry Title: Census 2000  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 3, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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