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The Sexual Politics of Compensating Employees

Canada’s long history of employment protections and high level of acceptance for sexual minorities notwithstanding, its labour markets are strung up by sexual orientation.

Gay men, it turns out, earn less than their heterosexual counterparts. Gay women, meanwhile, earn more than straight women working in similar positions.

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This revelation comes courtesy of a just-released study out of McGill University published in the journal Gender & Society.

Using data from the 2006 census and controlling for differences like hours worked, education and occupation, doctoral researchers Nicole Denier and Sean Waite found, on average, that:

  • gay men earn about five percent less than straight men;
  • gay women earn about eight percent more than straight women;
  • gay women earn about nine percent less than straight men (a much smaller gap than the 26 percent that exists between women and men overall)

The largest wage variances were found in the highest-paid occupations, such as those in management and business. And the wage disparity for sexual minorities was smaller or non-existent in the public sector, where a unionized framework wields more control over the pay scale.

“Court cases and attitudinal research show employers and customers, in some cases, have a preference for working with heterosexuals,” Waite offered as explanation in conjunction with the release of his report. “For gay men, we think maybe this is explaining some of the wage disadvantage.”

Additionally, the researchers point out, it’s important to note that four percent more gay men than straight men have part-time jobs, a reality that has an obvious impact on wages.

And as for gay women’s wage-earning advantage, Waite calls that more to do with “perceptions of productivity” related to assumptions about their lack of a family, says Waite.

Waite and Denier want their “wage penalties based on sexual orientation” research to be taken into consideration in future conversations about whether sexual orientation should be included in federal employment equity legislation.

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