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Market Research  
 
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Socialization, family and community expectations, and cultural norms, of course, play key roles in the comfort-level and acceptance that any person feels about his or her sexual orientation. Perhaps not surprisingly, most recent sampling of gay men and lesbians tends to be skewed towards younger, emboldened individuals (for example, between the ages of 18 and 49, contrasted with fewer proportionately who are 50 years of age and older). Online samples also suggest a wide range of self-knowledge about bisexuality, with a broad range of behaviors and attractions among men and women who self-identify with this label.

Gender Identity vis-à-vis Sexual Orientation

Arguably the least understood and hardest to find segment within the glbtq population is that of individuals. Unlike sexual orientation, gender identity does not specifically focus on same- or opposite-sex attraction or behavior.

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A transgender individual is one whose assigned gender at birth may differ from his or her own perception as a man, woman, or intersexed person (someone with characteristics of both sexes). For accuracy's sake, researchers must take care to not confuse gender identity with sexual orientation or to oversimplify its characteristics.

How Many After All? The Census Begins to Include Same-Sex Couples

Census 2000 may be recalled by the national media as the gay census for its far-reaching effort to enumerate same-sex households in the United States. Although single gay men and lesbians were left out of the count, demographers say the tally of 600,000 same-sex couples (or put another way, 1.2 million same-sex "unmarried partners") is the result of the most extensive, albeit still imperfect, polling ever conducted of gay men and lesbians in America.

Despite the remarkable findings, demographers concluded that this census significantly undercounted the true number of same-sex households--likely due to longstanding stigma and understandable fears of disclosure, among other explanations. It should be kept in mind that the methodology of the census itself also contributes to undercounting many couples, heterosexual as well as homosexual. Since the census is designed to examine households and their structures, it does not include questions of a more sensitive and personal nature; more specifically, it does not query sexual orientation. Therefore, the census may easily overlook gay and straight couples who do not live together, and couples who live together but, for many reasons, chose not to fill out the census form as a couple-headed household.

Nonetheless, in the 2000 U.S. Census, respondents were given the option of selecting "unmarried partner" when disclosing their household was headed by two adults of the same gender. In these instances, the census also ruled out all other, ordinary family relationships by blood or marriage and any mere associations through joint tenancy (such as a landlord-tenant or roommate circumstance). When other partner relationships were ruled out through a series of logical questions, these same-sex households were accurately identified as "unmarried partners" of the same sex and formally classified by demographers as gay and lesbian couples.

Perhaps not surprisingly, more than 99 percent of all U.S. counties had at least one household headed by unmarried partners of the same sex. The census report found that roughly one in three lesbian couples and one in five gay male couples were raising children under the age of 18 in 2000, which compares with 39 percent of opposite-sex unmarried partners. The comprehensive analysis of this demographic data by Urban Institute researcher Dr. Gary Gates provides us with the deepest and most valuable portrait yet of same-sex households.

The Myth of Affluence Redux

Lasting stereotypes about gay affluence are hard to dispel, yet economist and academic Dr. Lee Badgett has dedicated the past few years to a closer examination of existing income and population data on gay men and lesbians. In her book, Money, Myths, and Change, she explores the true diversity of economic life within this population and the reality that lesbians and gay men appear to earn no more than their heterosexual counterparts. Moreover, it appears in some cases that gay men earn less than comparable heterosexual men.

The 2000 Census, however, does suggest that same-sex male partner households may earn slightly more than heterosexual couples. This distinction may be entirely based on gender differences rather than sexual orientation, given that men earn more than women, and the finding that same-sex households are more likely to have both partners employed than their counterpart heterosexual couples.

For successful marketers, the concerns about earnings and affluence are less important than gay consumer patterns, needs, and preferences. Market researchers today thus focus far more on buying attitudes, brand loyalty, and traits such as early adopters of new products and styles. These are all attributes that are key to understanding differences between glbtq and heterosexual consumers, and they are precisely where marketers focus their attention.

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