Simpson’s Paradox in LGBTQ+ Policy: a Case Study



Simpson’s paradox occurs when trends found in the underlying data disappear or are reversed when groups are aggregated. Because reported data are used to guide policymaking, understanding and being able to identify instances of Simpson’s paradox is crucial to LGBTQ+ policy.


The article offers a theoretical introduction to Simpson’s paradox before looking to a recent LGBT poverty study as a case study of the paradox and of its dangers in the context of LGBTQ+ policy. It then offers suggestions for minimizing the impact of the paradox for researchers and data users.


The Williams Institute’s LGBT Poverty Study reported a much higher percentage of cisgender bisexual women living in poverty compared to other cisgender LGB groups. The rate of poverty was comparable to that of transgender respondents. However, the pattern was absent from age-disaggregated data and arose from the proportionately younger age of cisgender bisexual women in the study.


Aggregate statistics and how they are reported may misrepresent the causal relationship between group belonging and outcome.

Policy implications

Researchers should seek to minimize the risk of readers falling prey to the paradox by deliberately discussing the impact of confounding variables in the abstract or executive summary of their study, and by varying how they elect to report, represent, and disseminate the information. Policymakers and other data users should be cognizant of and attentive to Simpson’s paradox when interpreting studies.

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    Bisexual cisgender women reporting a race or ethnicity other than white, Black, and Hispanic had slightly lower poverty rates than cisgender lesbians but remained much more likely to be poor than other groups.


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Correspondence to Florence Ashley.

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Ashley, F. Simpson’s Paradox in LGBTQ+ Policy: a Case Study. Sex Res Soc Policy (2020).

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  • LGBTQ+
  • Policymaking
  • Simpson’s paradox
  • Statistics
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender