Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


First Advisor

M. V. Lee Badgett

Second Advisor

Nancy Folbre

Third Advisor

Ann Ferguson

Subject Categories

Business | Economics | Labor Economics


Since Badgett's (1995a) landmark study on the wage effects of sexual orientation, interest in and production of scholarly work addressing the economics of sexual orientation has grown tremendously. Curious puzzles have emerged in the literature on the economics of same-sex couple households, three of which are addressed in detail in this dissertation.

Most studies of the wages of women in same-sex couples versus different-sex couples find that the former earn more, even controlling for differences in present labor market supply, education, experience, area of residence, and occupation. However, most previous studies of the sexual orientation wage gap omit the role of motherhood in the lesbian-straight women wage gap, and most take the sample of lesbians to be a homogenous group compared to straight women. Chapter 1 uses American Community Survey data from 2010 to study the wage gap between lesbians and straight women, putting motherhood in intra-household differences at the center of the analysis. The analysis shows that in terms of earnings, lesbian couples are quite heterogeneous; one partner has a large wage premium over straight women, and the other faces a large wage penalty. These findings are enhanced when a child is present in the lesbians' home, possibly suggesting a household division of labor in lesbian homes.

Chapter 2 considers the possibility that same-sex couples, like many different-sex couples, have one person who specializes in paid work while the other specializes in unpaid work for the household, such as housework and childcare. Chapter 2 presents a study which uses American Time Use Survey Data pooled from 2003-2011 to analyze the time spent in household, care, and paid work for members of different couple types and finds that in same-sex as well as different-sex couple households, some personal characteristics, such as being the lower earner in the household, are correlated with spending more time in household and care work.

Chapter 3 offers a study of poverty in same-sex versus different-sex couple households, exploring which characteristics are correlated with poverty for same-sex and different-sex couple households. When controlling for a couple's education level, area of residence, race and ethnicity, age, and household composition, same-sex couples are more likely to be in poverty than their different-sex counterparts.