Are Gayborhoods Driving Economic Growth in US Cities?

Historically, LGBT communities have developed in concentrated areas within cities, in part to promote a shared culture but also to avoid homophobia. However, in recent years, previously neglected neighborhoods in many American cities, such as Chicago, San Francisco, and New York, have experienced gentrification due to an influx of gay and lesbian residents. Simultaneously, some academic studies and news media outlets have made claims that high concentrations of same-sex couples promote the economic development of urban neighborhoods.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Population Studies Center call into question some of these claims. In a recent study, Janice Madden and Matt Ruther analyze nationwide economic development trends by exploring housing prices and population growth in cities with concentrated LGBT communities. To do this, they examine data from the US Census, which provides economic development figures, as well as the American Community Survey (ACS), which draws on demographic data on household types, income level, and home ownership rates from a subset of census respondents.

The study explores the notion that increased populations of same-sex residents may result in greater urban revitalization of American cities. This relationship was first introduced in a study of housing prices, which found that gays and lesbians are associated with higher average housing prices. Higher housing prices frequently result in greater development of neighborhood amenities, such as fitness centers, organic grocery stores, and other high-end businesses. In analyzing national data, there is an association between cities with high concentrations of gay men and an increase in household income, as well as overall population growth, in these cities. By contrast, while greater representation of lesbian residents is correlated with a similar trend of increased household income in the Northeast, there is actually no association with overall population growth in cities across the country. Differences in economic impact between gays and lesbians may be due to variation in social trends across genders, specifically that lesbian partners are more likely to have children than their male counterparts, resulting in different patterns of consumption.

The study also discredits some popularly held ideas about LGBT communities. For instance, the authors find little support for the notion that gays are more likely to reside in more racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. In fact, census tracts with high populations of African Americans actually experienced a decrease in gay and lesbian populations during the first ten years of this century. One exception to this overall finding was for lesbian populations in Western US cities, where an increase in same-sex couples was seen in highly diverse areas.

Additionally, the authors question the idea that LGBT individuals seek out neighborhoods with a higher concentration of others who identify as LGBT. While census data did reflect an increase in same-sex households in areas with high volumes of gays and lesbians, it did not occur at a significant enough level when compared to population growth across all neighborhood types. A final popular notion asserts that gays and lesbians are more likely to live in centrally-located neighborhoods than other residents, as same-sex couples are less likely to have children and, therefore, desire greater cultural options. The study did not find support for this assertion and instead found that the distance of LGBT couples from the city center varies greatly by region and gender. In fact, Midwest LGBT populations actually live further from city centers when compared to all households in the region.

Overall, the research presented suggests a correlation between increased housing prices, local population growth, and the presence of gay men in downtown neighborhoods. However, an association with economic growth does not strictly explain this trend. Future research should explore the economic impact of same-sex couples over the course of multiple decades, as this study was limited to a 10-year period. Additionally, the census data may not account for all same-sex couples, as states have varying levels of coding for these partnerships. The ACS notes that a redesign of its questionnaire in 2008 resulted in a decrease in same-sex partners over the previous year. This change accounts for a possible overestimation in previous years. A more precise measure of same-sex partnerships in the data will provide a more accurate representation of this population and allow for more accurate tracking of related economic trends.

Article Source: Janice F. Madden and Matt Ruther, “Gayborhoods: Economic Development and the Concentration of Same-Sex Couples in Neighborhoods Within Large American Cities,” Regional Science Matters, ed. P. Nijkamp et al. (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2015), 399.

Feature Photo: cc/(torbakhopper)

Rachel Gordon
Rachel ('18) is a staff writer for Urban Affairs. She is interested in economic development and housing policy.

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