What Aspects of Society Matter for the Quality of Life of a Minority? Global Evidence from the New Gay Happiness Index

Abstract

There is great variation in views on and treatment of minorities such as gay men across the world. We are the first to pinpoint what features of societies are beneficial to gay men’s quality of life by using a unique new cross-country dataset covering 110 countries, the Gay Happiness Index. It covers how gays perceive public opinion about them, how they experience behavior towards them and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our study is based on the premise that it is important to look at minority-specific effects of policies and institutions and not solely at the effects for the average citizen, as well as the transmission mechanisms through which policies and institutions affect life satisfaction. We find that factors such as equal legal rights for gay people, GDP per capita, democracy and globalization relate positively to the quality of life of gay men, primarily by shaping public opinion and behavior in a pro-gay direction. Religion (the shares of Muslims and Orthodox Christians) and living in a post-communist country tend to relate negatively to our quality of life indicators. Most of these factors have been shown to matter for the well-being of people in general as well, which may be taken to suggest that gay people benefit from being included in society—legally, socially and economically—on the same terms as others.

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Fig. 1

Source: World Values Survey (2015)

Fig. 2
Fig. 3
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Fig. 5

Notes

  1. 1.

    Rawls’s basic idea is that people will be able to choose principles of justice that are fair in an original position characterized in the following way: “Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength and the like. We shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.” (Rawls 1971: 12). The veil of ignorance can thus help us consider principles or institutions embodying such principles without knowing how they would affect us. As an example, when considering same-sex marriage, we would have to disregard whether we are gay, fundamentalist Christian or anything else.

  2. 2.

    According to the American Psychological Association (2008), “[s]exual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes”, and by “gays” we mean those men with a sexual orientation that entails exclusive attraction to other men. The results of this study may well extend to other minority groups than gays. In fact, Inglehart and Abramson (1999) argue that inclusiveness toward gay men is a useful indicator of tolerant attitudes overall.

  3. 3.

    On the history of attitudes towards homosexuality, see e.g., Duberman et al. (1990) or Mondimore (1996).

  4. 4.

    On the rise of sexual freedom more generally around the world, see Alexander et al. (in press). Yet, these developments do not mean that there is no de facto discrimination of gays also in Western countries—see, e.g., Ahmed et al. (2013), Boeri et al. (2015), Hammarstedt et al. (2015) and Patacchini et al. (2015).

  5. 5.

    We use the term “quality of life” rather than “gay happiness” since the index is comprised of factors that are not, as such, all measures of happiness (even though they may affect happiness).

  6. 6.

    On the policy relevance of life satisfaction findings, with a special argumentation for how they matter for the design of institutions, see Frey and Stutzer (2012).

  7. 7.

    For more on individual-level factors of importance to the quality of life of gay people, see van den Akker et al. (2013) and Powdthavee and Wooden (2014). Nussbaum and Sen (1993) discuss what constitutes quality of life, while Bjørnskov et al. (2008), Dolan et al. (2008) and Frey and Stutzer (2002, 2012) provide overviews of the life-satisfaction literature.

  8. 8.

    While Clark et al. (2008: 123) state that “greater economic prosperity at some point ceases to buy more happiness”, recent studies, such as Deaton (2008) and Stevenson and Wolfers (2008), find that the well-being–income relationship is roughly a linear-log relationship and that there is no evidence of satiation.

  9. 9.

    As discussed by Whitam (1983), homosexuality was seen as a symptom of bourgeois decadence in the Soviet Union and was therefore seen as something to be eradicated. As a number of other cultural and ideological factors have tended to persist after the post-communist transition, a generally negative view of homosexuality may be part of a communist legacy (Heineck and Süssmuth 2013; Necker and Voskort 2014).

  10. 10.

    A strength of the sample is that it is large and drawn from a substantial group of very diverse countries, and while it is based on an online survey, there are indications of smaller and smaller differences between offline and online survey populations as Internet access spreads (Fricker and Schonlau 2002). It bears noting, for example, that the mean age of respondents in this online survey is similar to that found in other surveys (see e.g., Powdthavee and Wooden 2014). Nevertheless, there might still be a concern that the sample is non-representative (Wilson and Laskey 2003). Let us address such a concern with four points. First, we deal with this in Sect. 4, by weighting the sample such that observations from countries with fewer than 100 respondents are downplayed, by carrying out an outlier analysis in the form of a jackknife exercise and by separating estimates for rich and poor countries. The inclusion of regional dummies also alleviates part of the concern to the extent that they capture broad factors affecting survey participation. Second, even if skewedness exists, it may be reasonable to assume that it is similar across countries, which makes comparisons of our kind less problematic. Third, it may be the case that online surveys are actually more representative of gay men in general than traditional surveys that ask gay men who are members of particular organizations or who visit particular physical venues, since we believe that this group is more prone, in most countries and not least in countries where there is legal and social disapprobation, to socialize via the web compared to people in general. As noted in Tikkanen and Ross (2003), one difference between men who visit gay chat rooms online and those who never do is that the former group has less often publicly come out, indicating that an Internet survey of this kind may comprise people that would otherwise not be survey participants. Fourth, Planet Romeo can be accessed via smartphones, both on the web and through an app, which does not make it necessary to own a computer to participate in the survey; it is not least noteworthy that increasingly, people in developing countries use phones for financial transactions and social interaction. All this being said, it should be noted that our results mainly apply to gay men who use the Internet in some form.

  11. 11.

    To some extent, the critique hides an important but never stated assumption. If dissatisfaction is to result in a desire for specific behavior, such as moving to another location, dissatisfied respondents must also perceive that it is possible to do so. If moving is not perceived to be a practical possibility—either because people are somehow barred from moving or if respondents believe that the situation is equally bad at alternative locations—it is entirely possible to be strongly dissatisfied without having incentives to change behavior.

  12. 12.

    We use PCA as a way to inform us about how to create indices that maximize variation while at the same time avoiding testing highly correlated indices against each other. The particular attraction with PCA is that the number of components and the separation of variables into indices are entirely driven by the data structure and thus free of any theoretical or normative priors. While factor analysis (FA) could have been used as the main method, it is more suitable if one wishes to test a theoretical model of latent factors causing observed variables, while our interest lies in reducing a set of correlated observed variables to a smaller set of independent composite variables, which is done through the PCA. The choice of PCA is also supported by Cronbach’s Alpha (see Tables 1, 2). Yet, our experience is that the use of related types of analysis in general provides support for the same division of the variables. Other similar techniques such as FA that do not necessarily generate orthogonal solutions nevertheless tend to result in similar solutions as those we find here using PCA. And we have, as a result of this comment, run a FA as well, which reassuringly gives very similar results; not least, both PCA and FA suggest that the original GHI sub-index of public behavior hides several dimensions, which is why we use the three new indices reflecting public behavior.

  13. 13.

    Although one might criticize the choice of equal weights of variables in the indices, since the loadings in some cases seem different, a full set of tests suggests that no loadings differ significantly within each index. We therefore prefer a choice of equal weights in order to provide maximally transparent indices and results.

  14. 14.

    We note that while we use the term favorable opinion, the opinions of the surrounding society need not be favorable in an absolute sense. We merely require that they are not less favorable than the opinions of other citizens with different sexual preferences. As such, we treat normative neutrality as representing a favorable opinion.

  15. 15.

    The original GHI contains 25 components organized into three sub-indices. However, we only use 24 of the components—component 8 of the public opinion sub-index (which covers respondents’ ratings of their environment more gay-friendly than anti-gay based on the “Perception of Stigma Scale”) has been excluded. The reason is that this question is hard to interpret on the basis of being an average of nine underlying questions and that preliminary statistical analysis indicates that the three separate replies (friendly, un-friendly and neutral) load onto different dimensions, which is not the case for other components of the GHI. Moreover, a formal Chi squared test speaks in favor of excluding the component—it can be shown to add noise. However, it bears noting that when we use the original sub-indices of the GHI in the regressions reported in Online Appendix-Table 5 (OA, p. 10), including this component, the results are very similar for the GHI public opinion sub-index compared to those found for our favorable opinion sub-index, which excludes the component, as reported in Table 4.

  16. 16.

    Mobility restrictions may be of a legal kind or follow from either poverty or cultural or family values. Thus, if mobility is not an option, gay men probably do not even entertain the idea of moving. But even when mobility is an option, gay men may have no desire to move, e.g., if the actual or perceived opportunities to lead a good life elsewhere are not any better.

  17. 17.

    There are two basic types of discrimination: taste-based and statistical (Becker 1957; Phelps 1972). The former is the result of a personal dislike of a particular person for some characteristic; the latter stems from imperfect information and the negative evaluation of a person for belonging to a group that on average is thought to possess negative qualities. In the case of gay men, a dislike may, e.g., be based on prejudice (Herek 2000), disgust (Olatunji 2008) or self-hatred (Weinstein et al. 2012). Our findings suggest that society-level factors influence the degree to which personal (taste-based or statistical) discriminatory motives turn into actually perceived discrimination.

  18. 18.

    It could also be that the survey responses from these countries are not very representative, since there is an average of 54 replies per country, and that the relationship is therefore not reflecting real general circumstances. As described above we use weights to alleviate the potential small sample problem. In the sensitivity analysis we also present results when excluding countries with <100 observations.

  19. 19.

    Specifically, all three areas matter for the quality of life of gay men, but for different outcomes. ILGA persecution is related to favorable opinion, absence of discrimination, absence of threats and absence of bad behavior; ILGA protection to the absence of discrimination (not surprising) and absence of threats; and ILGA recognition to favorable opinion, absence of discrimination and the absence of bad behavior. Section 2 of the Online Appendix (OA, p. 3) provides information on the specific coding of these sub-indices.

  20. 20.

    Readers should note that while the interaction term per se cannot be interpreted on its own—one has to interpret the conditional effects when gauging the size and significance of the results—its significance informs about whether the difference between the estimates in the low- and high-GDP subsamples is significant. As such, the subsample estimates can differ in two ways: (1) either by being significantly different, such that one is clearly larger than the other; or (2) by not being significantly different but where one estimate is substantially more precise when one conditional estimate is significant and the other is not.

  21. 21.

    We calculate the size of the full effects by, for example, multiplying the estimates of ILGA rights on opinion and discrimination with the effects of opinion and discrimination on life satisfaction and adding the two effects. In the case there is a direct effect, this is added to the sum of the indirect effects to get the full effect.

  22. 22.

    Since the unique data only includes responses from gay men, we cannot estimate the magnitude of the effects on life satisfaction in comparison to the average population. Moreover, the GHI is not measured in exactly the same way as traditional life-satisfaction indicators, which further complicates direct comparisons of magnitudes.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank Andreas Bergh, Jerg Gutmann, Martin Rode, Reto Odermatt and participants of the 17th Danish Public Choice Workshop (Copenhagen, 2016), the Public Choice Society conference (Fort Lauderdale, 2016) and the European Public Choice Society meeting (Freiburg, 2016) for helpful comments and the Swedish Research Council (Berggren and Nilsson), Torsten Söderberg’s Foundation (Berggren and Nilsson), the Czech Science Foundation (Grant 16-19934S) (Berggren and Nilsson) and the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation (Bjørnskov) for financial support.

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Appendix

Tables 5 and 6 report estimates from which Fig. 4 is constructed.

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Berggren, N., Bjørnskov, C. & Nilsson, T. What Aspects of Society Matter for the Quality of Life of a Minority? Global Evidence from the New Gay Happiness Index. Soc Indic Res 132, 1163–1192 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-016-1340-3

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Keywords

  • Gay
  • Minorities
  • Happiness
  • Well-being
  • Life satisfaction
  • Institutions