Financial and employment security, discrimination, and isolation are all prevalent stressors among members of the LGBTQ community age 45 and older, according to a recent AARP online survey.
The five-minute survey, conducted as a follow-up to a more extensive 2017 study, revealed high levels of concerns about sexual orientation discrimination, employment, and retirement savings. A total of 1,743 LGBTQ community members participated in the 2019 research, including 768 gay and bi+ men, 725 lesbian and bi+ women, and 250 transgender and nonbinary community members.
The survey comes as significant shifts have occurred in the LGBTQ research field, in particular with understanding identity and an acknowledgement of new ways in which people self-identify. This latest survey, which was fielded in December 2019 and January 2020, tracked bisexual, biromantic, pansexual, panromantic, demisexual, and demiromantic identities.
The Strain of Intolerance
Anxiety over discrimination is considerable. Not only does concern about sexual orientation discrimination permeate the entire LGBTQ community, but some also face added concern about gender and race discrimination. More than three-quarters are also concerned about age discrimination.
Among LGBTQ adults surveyed, 84% said they were at least somewhat concerned about being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, while 59% said they are extremely or very concerned.
Nearly all (90%) transgender and nonbinary community members expressed at least some concern about discrimination based on gender or gender identity, with 71% saying they were extremely or very concerned. Gender discrimination was also elevated for cisgender women compared to cisgender men.
Concern about discrimination based on race or ethnicity was very high among African American/Black participants and elevated for Hispanic/Latino participants.
Unsurprisingly, support is near unanimous (92%) for federal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, just like the protections for discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion.
Workplace and Retirement Tensions
Such concerns come with reason. More than a quarter (26%) report experiences of workplace discrimination because of their sexual orientation since turning 40. Transgender and nonbinary community members reported the highest rates of workplace discrimination, with nearly half (49%) saying they had been treated differently because of their gender or gender identity.
Still, most who can and want to work have jobs, and the percentage of participants under age 65 who are unemployed and looking for work is in line with current national unemployment rates. However, unemployment rates were elevated (7%) for transgender and nonbinary participants.
Setting aside the apprehensions over prejudice, bigotry, and harassment, LGBTQ workers also face the ongoing pressures of maintaining job skills, pay cuts, job loss, and preparing for retirement. Maintaining relevant job skills and experience is a worry for 74% of those ages 45 to 54 and 62% of those ages 55 to 64.
Slightly less than a third of those ages 45 to 64 (30%) worry about losing their job within the next two years, with economic cost-cutting topping the list of reasons why they believe their positions are in jeopardy.
Even as workers seek to maintain their jobs, saving enough for retirement is a worry, with 65% extremely or very concerned. Those identifying as transgender and nonbinary participants, Black and non–AARP members had the highest levels of concern.
Living Arrangements: Addressing Isolation
While about half of the survey participants (52%) live with a partner or spouse, 35% live alone, and the rest live with other family members or roommates. Gay and bisexual men are far more likely to be living alone compared to lesbian and bisexual women, putting them at increased risk for isolation. Black LGBTQ community members are also more likely to live alone.
Household companionship not only addresses social isolation but can also be an indicator for future caregiving support. For instance, lesbian and bisexual women are about twice as likely to have children than gay and bisexual men. Because adult children often help care for aging parents, this could mean lesbian and bisexual women will be more likely to be supported as they age.
More than half (54%) of transgender and nonbinary participants said they had children of any age, especially grandchildren. This mirrored 2017 findings.
The survey also asked about pet companionship, which can break patterns of isolation as well as encourage exercise and engagement among older adults. Again, lesbian and bisexual women are far more likely than gay and bisexual men to care for a pet in the home. Transgender and nonbinary participants’ guardianship rates more closely match the women’s community.
Cantave, Cassandra. The State of LGBTQ Dignity 2020: A Supplement to Maintaining Dignity Pre-COVID 19. Washington, DC: AARP Research, August 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00379.001
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