Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

Sexual Minorities and Social Context: An Examination of Union Formation, Labor Market Outcomes, and Coming Out

Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Kara Joyner (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Susan Brown (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Karen Guzzo (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Wendy Manning (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Laura Landry-Meyer (Other)

Abstract

The past two decades have been a time of rapid social change for sexual minority individuals living in the United States. Marriage for same-sex couples is now legally recognized in all states and the number of adults identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual is at an all-time high. Nevertheless, certain rights are still not afforded to all sexual minorities, and stressors exist beyond the legal and institutional context. Social context is salient for sexual minorities because they are likely to encounter stressful situations in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and families. Previous research has examined the effects of context on the health and well-being of sexual minorities, but has rarely analyzed contextual influences on other outcomes for this population. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) provides the unique opportunity to examine how different indicators of social context are associated with a variety of outcomes for a nationally representative cohort of young adults in the United States. Using data from Add Health, I first examine how indicators of social context are associated with the likelihood that sexual minorities (i.e., homosexuals and bisexuals) have come out to parents prior to Wave III. Second, I examine how indicators are associated with their likelihood of forming a same-sex coresidential union between Wave III and IV. Third, I consider how sexual minorities fare in the labor market in comparison to sexual majorities (i.e., heterosexuals) at Wave IV, paying close attention to how their outcomes also differ according to relationship context. In support of minority stress and ecological systems frameworks, I find evidence that social context matters for sexual minorities. Specifically, sexual minorities living in census tracts with relatively moderate or high concentrations of same-sex couples are more likely to be out to either parent than their counterparts living in tracts with low concentration of same-sex couples. Sexual minorities who are out to their parents are more likely to form a same-sex union than those who are not out. In addition, sexual minority men (but not women) living in neighborhoods with more same-sex couples have a higher likelihood of forming a same-sex union than their counterparts living in neighborhoods with fewer same-sex couples. Consistent with prior research based on Add Health, bisexual men and women (but not homosexual men and women) have significantly lower hourly wages than their heterosexual counterparts. My analyses demonstrate that associations between sexual orientation identity and wages are complicated by union status. Most notably, the bisexual wage penalty largely reflects the fact that bisexual men and women are less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be married. My results also suggest that conclusions about the success of sexual minorities in the labor market relative to sexual majorities differ depending on whether the outcome is any employment, full-time employment, or hourly wages. The findings of this dissertation extend prior research and provide new insights into the links between social context and sexual minority outcomes.

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