Tax records reveal most detail to date on gay marriage
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The New York Times reports that more than three years after a Supreme Court decision gave federal recognition to same-sex marriages performed in states that allowed them, the demographics of same-sex married couples largely remain a mystery.
In fact, no one has a definitive count of gay married couples in the United States (NOLA.com).
One reason it’s hard to get a fix on the marriages is that detailed marriage records are not tracked at the federal level. They’re managed by counties and states, which report the count of marriages and not much else. The Census Bureau isn’t always a lot of help either. Methodological problems such as sample size and false positives have long plagued census estimates of this relatively small group (NOLA.com).
But a new research paper published by the Treasury Department on Monday (Sept. 12) has found an interesting way around these problems: tax records (NOLA.com).
By linking the tax returns of same-sex couples who filed jointly in 2014 with their Social Security records, researchers are able to give us the most accurate picture of same-sex marriages to date. And their estimate is this: In 2014, there were 183,355 same-sex marriages in America, roughly a third of 1 percent of all marriages (NOLA.com).
Of course, implicit in this estimate is the assumption that all married couples file their returns jointly. But as a proxy for that, it’s pretty good. The Treasury Department estimates that 97.5 percent of married couples file joint returns (NOLA.com).
One highlight of the study: Pretax household income of same-sex married couples is higher than that of heterosexual married couples. Most of that is driven by the average earnings of male same-sex couples: $176,000. On average, they make $52,000 more than married lesbian couples and $63,000 more than married straight couples (NOLA.com).
Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said one reason is the gender pay gap. The math here is simple — for heterosexual couples, the gender pay gap affects one partner. For same-sex female couples, the gender pay gap affects both partners (NOLA.com).
But that doesn’t explain why same-sex female married couples earn more than heterosexual married couples, overall. The other key component is geography. The tax data show same-sex married couples clustering along the coasts, and in urban pockets across the United States. These are regions that also tend to have higher wages. In fact, heterosexual couples actually earn more than same-sex female ones when you compare married couples who live in the same three-digit ZIP code region (NOLA.com).
Child care plays a huge role as well. Same-sex female couples are four times more likely to have children than same-sex male couples. That means that many women will have to make tough trade-offs between career and family. Combine that with the likelihood of lower pay to begin with and you start to understand why the income differences are so large (NOLA.com).
There is one group whose incomes are far above the rest: same-sex married men with children. Their income is roughly $275,000, more than double the pretax income for heterosexual couples and same-sex married female couples with children. This is a select group of people for whom the cost of children is particularly high. Using a surrogate can cost $250,000, and adoptions can cost upward of $30,000 (NOLA.com).
The data also reveal another, more subtle geographical difference in male vs. female same-sex married couples. The top 20 cities for male same-sex married couples are more likely to include dense city centers such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, while the top 20 cities for female same-sex married couples tend to include smaller and medium-size cities — Springfield, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; and Burlington, Vermont (NOLA.com).
Women gravitated toward commitment more than men. Among the same-sex marriages, 55 percent involved same-sex women and 45 percent same-sex men. Those in same-sex marriages tend to be a little younger than those in straight marriages. The average age of same-sex filers is 47, while the average age for those in straight couples is 51 (NOLA.com).
The Treasury’s tally of same-sex marriages is very different from that of the census — roughly half what the census estimates. It doesn’t rely on samples as the census does, but uses all the tax records in America (NOLA.com).
This difference is particularly important when it comes to counting gay and lesbian populations. For detailed records of American life, the Census Bureau usually employs surveys of a small but statistically representative sample of Americans. Normally that is sufficient for most kinds of estimates such as average family sizes, car ownership or other measures (NOLA.com).
The problem with estimating gay and lesbian populations is that they represent such a small fraction of the total population; any mistakes in how people answered their census forms are likely to push the number of gay couples and, in particular, gay married couples wildly out of focus (NOLA.com).
And in fact, this is what happened in the 2000 census and again in 2010. One of the more interesting problems was that many straight couples were being classified as gay because of incorrectly checked boxes on a census form. This resulted, according to some estimates, in as much as a 25 percent overcount of gay couples (NOLA.com).
Maybe the best way to think about these Treasury numbers is as a floor, lower than the hypothetically perfect count of gay marriage but the closest we’ve ever come to one. And if the Treasury researchers produce similar reports for 2015 and 2016, we will be even closer (NOLA.com).
See the article here.
If you or a family member are facing legal difficulties, please call us at 504-522-7260. We offer free initial consultations with our clients in mind.