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A puzzle has emerged from studies examining the wage effects of sexual orientation for women. Although lesbian and bisexual women face discrimination in the labor market, most studies of the wages of female full-time workers in same-sex couples versus those in different-sex couples find that the lesbians earn more, even controlling for differences in present labor market supply, education, years of experience, area of residence, and occupation. However, previous studies of the sexual orientation wage gap consistently suffer from two important omissions: first, the role of motherhood in the straight-lesbian wage gap has not been adequately addressed, and second, researchers have taken the sample of lesbians to be a homogenous group compared to straight women without considering the possibility that there is a “primary” and “secondary” group of earners among lesbians, as there is in different-sex couples. This paper uses 2010 American Community Survey data to preform OLS wage regressions, a Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition, and a DiNardo-Fortin-Lemieux decomposition to test for a wage gap between lesbians and straight women, giving particular attention to the role of motherhood and incorporating the possibility that in terms of wages, two distinct groups of lesbians exist. The results show that while motherhood is typically negatively correlated with wages for straight women, it is positively related to wages for the group of lesbians as a whole. The positive relationship between earnings and wages holds only for primary lesbian partners; the relationship between motherhood and wages is negative for the secondary partners.


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