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Do gays get better grades? July 15, 2009

Posted by Geekgirl in social.

What is college like if you are gay? Data from earlier studies (Decennial Census in the year 2000) shows that among 25 to 50 year olds,  LGB individuals are 5 to 6% more likely to attend college than their straight counterparts.

Do gay students do better in school? What do they do with their time?

This recent paper is an analysis of a nationwide survey or college students. The purpose of this study is NOT to identify if gay students do better. It just happens, by coincidence, that the study includes a question asking about sexual orientation. The study asks a lot of questions. Grade point, time spent working, amount of money earned as a college student, time spent  watching TV. Lots and lots of questions.

The researchers at the University of California of Irvine decided to see if any of these things were different among gay students. The study asks if a person has sexual relations with someone of the opposite sex, same sex or both. So, unfortunately, it doesn’t capture if people identify as transgendered.

The paper is quite long and is not publicly available. I’ll try to cover what I think are the most interesting highlights.

What was your college experience like?

First, the reference and the abstract for the article.

Sexual orientation and outcomes in college

Christopher S. Carpentera,

aUniversity of California, Irvine, The Paul Merage School of Business, 443 SB UC Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697-3125, United States

Economics of Education Review    Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

Received 4 November 2005;
accepted 1 October 2007.
Available online 27 May 2009.


It has been well documented that sexual minority individuals are significantly more likely to be college educated than heterosexual individuals [Black, D., Gates, G., Sanders, S., & Taylor, L. (2000). Demographics of the gay and lesbian population in the United States: Evidence from available systematic data sources.Demography, 37(2), 139–154; and others].

Yet there is very little scholarship on the experiences of sexual minorities in college. We discuss several ways that sexual orientation could matter for college outcomes, and we provide the first empirical evidence on this question by using confidential data on over 40,000 students from the 1997, 1999, and 2001 waves of the Harvard College Alcohol Study.

We identify sexual minorities by using responses to questions about the sex of the respondent’s lifetime sex partners. After conditioning on observable demographic characteristics and institution fixed effects, we find that (compared to their heterosexual peers): (1) gay males have higher college grade point averages and perceive their academic work as more important; (2) gay and bisexual males are more likely to report the presence of a faculty member or administrator with whom they could discuss a problem; and (3) gay and bisexual males place more importance on participating in student organizations, volunteer activities, the arts, and politics.

Among females, we find that: (1) bisexual females are less satisfied with the education they are receiving, spend less time studying, and perceive their academic work as less important; and (2) lesbian and bisexual females place more importance on participation in the arts and politics. These patterns suggest important and complex relationships between sexual orientation and college outcomes.

Let’s see if I can boil down several points from the paper into bullet points:

Out of 40,000 respondents, over 1800 students self identified as having sexual relations that were either same sex or bisexual. Note, the study doesn’t ask what is your sexual orientation, it asks about the gender of sexual partners. The data was normalized within reporting colleges to account for the fact that some colleges may be more challenging academically than others.

Compared to heterosexuals:

  • Gay men were more likely to have higher grade point averages than straight men. For lesbians, there was no significant difference.
  • LGB students showed a higher rate of being Hispanic or black.
  • Gay students, especially males, were more likely to have parents that did NOT attend college.
  • Bisexual students were more likely to have parents that did attend college.
  • Gay men spent more hours working per week than their straight male counterparts. For women, there was no difference.
  • Gay men and lesbians placed less importance on partying in college.
  • Gay and bisexual students spent more time participating in student organizations and volunteering than heterosexual students. For lesbians, the amount of time spent was only slightly higher.
  • Gay and bisexual men were less likely to be interested in athletics, lesbians were more likely to be interested in athletics, than their straight, respective gender, counterparts.
  • Bisexual women reported having a less than positive college experience. Gay men reported a more positive college experience than their straight male counterparts.
  • Heterosexual students reported more time watching TV or videos than gay students.
  • Childhood test scores of aptitude show no differences between straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual students

The study acknowledges that many factors could influence one’s experience in college. Support of LGBT students by colleges or discrimination. LGBT students recognize that they could be on their own, since marriage isn’t legal in most states, especially when this survey was done, so they may be more driven to perform well in order to earn a living. Lack of parental support or positive parental support, could influence the outcome. None of these are measured in the survey. Of course, one’s chosen occupation will have a great influence in earning potential and the study doesn’t cover this since it was college students that were surveyed. The paper advocates for colleges providing more support for LGBT students and passage of hate crime laws to improve the college experience for LGBT students.



1. yy - July 15, 2009

It seems to me that it is more accurate to take the study as one of sexual behavior than of sexual orientation since that’s what it actually asks in the survey. So the result looks more like, to me, that students who are NOT restricted themselves to heterosexual sex, rather than gay students, get better grades.

2. lgbtlatestscience - July 15, 2009

Excellent point! You are correct. The study does talk about they chose the students. These were students who identified as having long term same sex relationships much more than opposite sex relationships. Their opposite sex relationships tended to be in their early years. I just didn’t put in all the details. But you are correct, this study does not ask students directly how they identified their own sexuality.

You get an A+ for reading closely.

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