Statistically significant?

Earlier this month, I went on a teensy bit of a rant about Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. Why was New Hope Borough, Bucks County, ranked, when we in Western Pennsylvania weren’t?

As Sue points out, HRC included those communities among the top 50 municipalities in population, state capitals, and with statistically significant numbers of LGBTQ residents.

New Hope’s population was 2,528. According to research from UCLA’s Williams Institute, among cities with populations below 100,000, New Hope ranks ninth-highest for its percentage of same-sex couples, as reported to the U.S. Census, behind such communities as Provincetown, Mass., Wilton Manors, Fla., Palm Springs, Calif., and Rehoboth Beach, Del. (PDF)

In fact, New Hope has more same-sex couples per 1,000 households than San Francisco and Fort Lauderdale—because New Hope has a high percentage of same-sex couples with a relatively small number of total residents.

We wondered, where do Pittsburgh and Allegheny County fall?

Well, getting reliable estimates of people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or some combination of terms isn’t easy. Since 2000, the U.S. Census has collected data on same-sex couples (they estimate, based on people’s responses … you can read more here) but they don’t specifically ask about sexual orientation or gender identity.

Private polling companies (such as Gallup) conduct periodic surveys, but getting your grubby little hands on their data isn’t easy.

Anyway, according to U.S. Census Data from 2010, about 0.77 percent of all households include a same-sex partnered couple. In Pennsylvania, it’s more like 0.67 percent.

According to U.S. Census estimates for 2010:

  • Allegheny County (including City of Pittsburgh):
    519,191 households; 0.6% “same-sex couples.” (2000: 0.5%)
  • City of Pittsburgh alone: 131,776 households, 0.7% “same-sex couples” (2000: 0.7%)
  • Beaver County: 69,760 households, 0.3% “same-sex couples” (2000: 0.3%)
  • Butler County: 72,566 households, 0.1% “same-sex couples” (2000: 0.5%)
  • Washington County: 83,804 households, 0.4% “same-sex couples” (2000: 0.4%)
  • Westmoreland County: 152,569 households, 0.2% “same-sex couples” (2000: 0.4%)

(Remember, these aren’t percentages of all people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or queer—these are only percentages of unmarried same-sex partners.)

Some of these numbers have pretty high margins of error—Butler County’s “0.1%” is less than its margin-of-error of 0.2%, which is one way of saying, “We have no freakin’ clue”—and these are small numbers, so you probably shouldn’t read much into them.

Pittsburgh and Allegheny and Beaver counties show drops in “households” (their population has declined) while numbers of “households” counted in Butler, Washington and Westmoreland went up.

If these numbers are accurate, it’s worth wondering why numbers of same-sex couples in Butler and Westmoreland went down. Those are pretty “red” counties (after all, someone has to be voting for state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe). Have gay couples moved away from Butler and Westmoreland?

Or are people in red counties nervous about reporting “same-sex” status on their Census forms? (By law, Census forms are supposed to be sealed for 72 years, but if one wacky census enumerator wanted to shame and/or “out” same-sex couples in her neighborhood, she could do a lot of damage.)

So I’m not sure if we should read anything into statistics which change by a few tenths of a percent. Myself, I’d be inclined to treat these statistics like horoscopes—for amusement purposes only—because I’m not sure if they’re accurate.

I did share these numbers with a lesbian co-worker who’s happily coupled and living with her partner in Pittsburgh.  “Well, I think we’re significant,” she said. “In fact, we should have T-shirts with that on them: ‘Statistically significant.'” What do you think?


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  • Great research. So Southwestern PA is NOT showing a statisically significant change in LGBTQ population as  measured by same-sex households. 
    If more LGBTQ couples settle in Harrisburg than Pittsburgh – even with fewer rights – what does that mean? Or Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinatti?

    • @SueKerr
      That’s a good question … my hunch is that open and out LGBTQ couples tend to skew younger, and will migrate to areas with more activities for young people and families … or at least places where they perceive there are more activities for young people and families.
      If that’s true, Pittsburgh’s relatively low number of out LGBTQ couples should be a function of our graying population. (Of course, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem, right? If you have more young people, you have more activities for young people, and if you don’t …?)

      • @TrishMifflin Perception, yes. And to some extent it might be the “Pittsburgh” part of the equation. I grew up in West Mifflin so when I moved back there as a lesbian, I was “one of them” which gave me a sense of protection … it was perceived, but it was enough to make me feel safe. And at that time, West Mifflin had no protection for me. That changed a few years later, but I’m not sure how much I thought about it at the time.

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