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The Geography of Same-Sex Couples

The Geography of Same-Sex Couples
Gary Gates, UCLA Williams Institute

Revised figures are out from the U.S. Census Bureau on same-sex couples in the U.S. These figures are officially released at the state level, but researchers at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA’s School of Law have further boiled the numbers down to get a picture of the geography of same-sex households in cities.

These figures, more precise and much lower than those released in August, show many of the same cities in the top places. Provincetown, Massachusetts, still ranks highest, with about 148 same-sex households per 1,000, or 14.8 percent of households. Wilton Manors, Florida, has 125 same-sex households per 1,000, or 12.5 percent, and Palm Springs, California, has 107 same-sex households per 1,000, or 10.7 percent. Overall, the figures are about 28 percent lower than previously reported, as the Census Bureau has corrected for reporting errors.

“We’ve been telling the Census for 10 years that they’ve got a problem here,” says Gary Gates, a scholar at the Williams Institute and author of the report. He says reporting on the mailed form and through follow-up enumerators often mislabeled the gender of spouses, which skewed the numbers.

Overall, the geography of same-sex couples is spreading. Cities with populations under 100,000 tend to have much higher rates than larger cities. All 25 of the cities in this smaller category have higher rates of same-sex couples than the top ranking cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000 and those cities with populations above 250,000. This smaller category includes places like Oakland Park, Florida, Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, and Ocean Grove, New Jersey. For larger cities, Gates says, the usual suspects are all there.

“The large city lists doesn’t surprise me at all,” he says. The top ranking big cities are San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Minneapolis and Atlanta. “St. Louis coming in 11th probably surprised me a little bit.”

The report finds a total estimate of 646,464 same-sex couples in the U.S., with a distribution mainly along the Pacific coast, the Southwest, in Florida and in the upper Northeast. The figures reported in August estimated 901,997 couples.

The report also looks at same-sex couple raising children, and this geographic distribution is much more spread out. The numbers suggest that same-sex couples raising children don’t only locate in cities or areas with high rates of same-sex households. The metropolitan areas with the highest rates of same-sex households raising children are San Antonio, Jacksonville, and Raleigh. Neither of these areas ranks in the top 25 cities for same-sex couples.

But as Gates points out, the numbers might be deceiving.

“People read these lists as preferences of where gay people want to live. But most people don’t get to act out on their preferences of where to live. The maps show where people feel comfortable reporting,” Gates says. “The geographic distribution is probably much more flat than these numbers would indicate.”

He is seeing this flattening out happening, and expects it to continue as conditions change. There will always be enclaves like Provincetown and Palm Springs, but there will also be increasing self-reporting in what we might currently think of as unlikely places.

“As time goes on, the overall distribution isn’t as driven by the extremes,” says Gates.

The decennial Census data is slow to mark these changes, but Gates believes they are currently happening, and that they’ll become even more clear in the coming years.

The full list of small, medium, and large cities is below:

Keywords: Gay, Census, Sam-Sex Couples

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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