The main points of the story
- The estimate has increased by more than one percentage point from the 2017 update
- The majority of LGBTI Americans say they are bisexual
- One in six adults in Generation Z consider themselves LGBT
Washington, DC – Gallup’s latest update on LGBT identification found that 5.6% of adults in the United States identify as LGBT. The current estimate is up from 4.5% in Gallup’s previous update based on 2017 data.
line chart. Gallup’s tendency to self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. In 2020, 5.6% of adults in the United States identify as LGBT. This is up from 4.5% in 2017, the last year it was asked, and 4.1% in 2016. Between 2012 and 2015, 3.5% to 3.9% of adults in the United States identified as LGBT.
Currently, 86.7% of Americans say they are heterosexual or straight, and 7.6% do not answer a question about their sexual orientation. Gallup data from 2012-2017 garnered nearly 5% of responses with “no opinion.”
The latest findings are based on more than 15,000 interviews conducted throughout 2020 with Americans age 18 or older. Gallup previously reported annual updates from the daily tracking survey data for 2012-2017, but did not routinely measure LGBT identification in 2018 or 2019.
The identity question asked in 2020 offers a greater level of detail than the question asked in previous years. Now, respondents have the ability to more accurately identify aspects of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition to being able to specify whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight, participants can also specifically identify whether they are transgender.
Different approaches to measuring LGBT status can produce different estimates of its incidence in the US population. The results of Gallup’s new question seem comparable to those of its previous question. The 1.1 percentage point increase in the 2020 estimate (using the new question) compared to the 2017 estimate (using the old question) relates to what could have been expected from recent trends. The percentage of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people increased by an average of 0.3 points per year in 2016 and 2017. Assuming that this trend had continued in the past three years, the overall increase would have been about 1 percentage point.
The majority of LGBT Americans identify as bisexual
More than half of LGBT adults (54.6%) identify as bisexual. About a quarter (24.5%) said they were gay, with 11.7% identifying as lesbian and 11.3% identifying as transgender. An additional 3.3% volunteered a non-heterosexual term or preference to describe their sexual orientation, such as gay or same-sex lover. Respondents can give multiple responses when describing their gender identity; Thus, the totals exceed 100%.
Paraphrasing these percentages to represent their share of the US adult population, it found that 3.1% of Americans are bisexual, 1.4% are gay, 0.7% are lesbian and 0.6% are transgender.
Americans’ Self-Defining Sexual Orientation
Which of the following do you consider yourself? You can choose what applies: straight or heterosexual; lesbian homosexual bisexual transgender people.
|Among gay adults in the United States||Of all adults in the United States|
|Other (eg, stranger, same-sex)||3.3||0.2|
|Total percentages are more than 100% because respondents may choose more than one category.|
LGBT identification is not uncommon among younger generations
One of the main reasons gay identification has increased over time is that younger generations are more likely to see themselves as something other than the opposite sex. This includes about one in six adult members of Generation Z (those aged 18-23 in 2020).
LGBT identification is lower in every older generation, including 2% or less of Americans born before 1965 (ages 56 and older in 2020).
Americans self-identifying as LGBT, by generation
|LGBT||straight / heterosexual||no opinion|
|Generation Z (born 1997-2002)||15.9||78.9||5.2|
|Millennials (born 1981-1996)||9.1||82.7||8.1|
|Generation X (born 1965-1980)||3.8||88.6||7.6|
|Born (born 1946-1964)||2.0||91.1||6.9|
|Traditionalists (born before 1946)||1.3||89.9||8.9|
The vast majority of Generation Z adults who identify as LGBT – 72% – say they are bisexual. Thus, 11.5% of all Generation Z adults in the United States say they are bisexual, with 2% each identifying as gay, lesbian, or transgender.
About half of millennials (those ages 24 to 39 in 2020) who identify as LGBT say they are bisexual. In the older age groups, stated bisexual preference is not significantly more common than that of gays or lesbians.
The Self-Defining Sexual Orientation of Americans, by Generation
|Generation Z (born 1997-2002)||11.5||2.1||1.4||1.8||0.4|
|Millennials (born 1981-1996)||5.1||2.0||0.8||1.2||0.4|
|Generation X (born 1965-1980)||1.8||1.2||0.7||0.2||0.1|
|Born (born 1946-1964)||0.3||1.2||0.4||0.2||0.0|
|Traditionalists (born before 1946)||0.3||0.3||0.2||0.3||0.1|
|The numbers represent the percentage of all adult individuals of each generation who have this sexual orientation|
In addition to the obvious generational differences, significant gender differences in gender identity are noted, as well as differences in people’s political ideology:
- Women are more likely than men to identify as LGBT (6.4% vs 4.9%, respectively).
- Women are more likely to identify as bisexual – 4.3% do, with 1.3% as lesbian and 1.3% as something else. Among men, 2.5% identify as gay, 1.8% are bisexual and 0.6% identify as something else.
- 13.0% of political liberals, 4.4% of moderates, and 2.3% of conservatives say they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
- The differences are somewhat less evident by party identification than by ideology, with 8.8% of Democrats, 6.5% of Independents, and 1.7% of Republicans identifying as LGBT.
- There are no meaningful educational differences – 5.6% of college graduates and 5.7% of non-graduates are LGBT.
At a time when Americans support equal rights for gays, lesbians, and transgender people, an increasing percentage of Americans identify themselves as LGBT. As younger generations are more likely than older generations to consider themselves LGBT, this growth must continue.
The apparent generational differences raise questions about whether higher LGBT identification in younger Americans than in older Americans reflects a true shift in sexual orientation, or whether it merely reflects a greater desire in young adults to identify as LGBT. To the extent that it reflects older Americans who are unwilling to acknowledge their LGBT orientation, Gallup’s estimates may underestimate its actual population prevalence.
The legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide has been one of the largest recent developments in gay rights. Gallup’s new estimates of same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships in the United States can be found here.
Editor’s note: On February 26, 2021, some article texts were revised to clarify aspects of sexual orientation versus gender identity.
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