Delving into the demographics of same-sex couples

This week our resident demographer looks at the social demographics of same-sex couples, as revealed by the census, and finds some worrying trends as well as something Australians can be tremendously proud of.

Jul 31, 2023, updated Jul 31, 2023
The Census can tell us more than we expected about our society. Photo: TND/Getty

The Census can tell us more than we expected about our society. Photo: TND/Getty

This week and next we will explore what the Australian Census can tell us about same-sex relationships. We will learn about the social aspects today, and next week we will look at the world of work.

The Australian Census doesn’t ask about our sexual orientation. It does, however, ask about relationships within the household. When two adults of the same sex live in a household and claim to live with their partner we can conclude that they are in a same-sex relationship (the census boffins call this the same-sex indicator).

We have no way of knowing about the sexual orientation of singles or younger people. Same-sex couples that live in separate dwellings might slip through the cracks too. Also, any fluidity in sexual orientation remains invisible to the census.

Since same-sex marriage is a new thing in Australia, we ignore all legal marriages along with all single people for today’s column and solely focus on de facto relationships.

While this methodology isn’t perfect it still allows us to unearth heaps of interesting stuff.

Our sample of same-sex couples consists of more than 107,000 people. Millennials (born 1982-99 were aged 22-39 at the 2021 census) make up 51 per cent of all same-sex de facto couples.

Can the census data help us to answer a simple but tricky question that has been asked for a long time? Roughly how many of us might be homosexual? The highest estimate that tends to be thrown around is 10 per cent, whereas the low-ball estimates suggest around 4 per cent.

Same-sex couples make up 5 per cent of all de-facto couples in Australia. That’s well within the expected range of 4 to 10 per cent, but likely an undercount.

The number is just over 6 per cent for folks in their early 40s. These older Millennials experienced much less stigma around the topic of homosexuality compared to previous generations. By 2021 they already reached the stage of the lifecycle where people tend to have settled down with a partner.

This data does not allow us to draw conclusions about whether or not same-sex attracted people are more or less likely than those attracted to the opposite sex to live in a relationship. Based on this data a decent guess would be that around 7 or 8 per cent of the Australian population might be same-sex attracted.

What about kids?

Plenty of same-sex couples have kids, but the desire to become parents appears to be much stronger in women.

While only 3 per cent of same-sex de facto couples are parents, just over 21 per cent of lesbian de facto couples are parents. The same general trends of delayed parenthood are to be found in same-sex couples.

The reason why opposite-sex couples start to have fewer kids once they reach their 40s is that they get married and jump over to the married couples chart.

InDaily in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Same-sex couples are more likely than opposite-sex couples to claim they have no religious affiliation. Considering the negative narratives around homosexuality in many a congregation and the fierce opposition towards same-sex marriage, this trend should not come as a surprise.

Remember that this chart shows people in de facto relationships only. One big fat reason to be in a de facto relationship rather than getting married is opposition to organised religion or all religious beliefs.

Throughout the lifecycle, same-sex couples are more likely to volunteer (probably not for a church). That’s likely the case for two reasons, fewer kids and negative past experiences. Nobody volunteers more than retired same-sex couples.

As you leave the world of work behind something needs to fill your calendar and something needs to fuel your passion. Since same-sex couples have relatively few kids it makes sense that they are more drawn towards volunteering. Plus, the elderly same-sex couples of today were part of the first major wave of gay-rights activism. Their passion for social change is clearly still burning strong.

There is plenty for our same-sex activists to advocate. Probably the most burning issue is mental health in young same-sex attracted people.

I explained previously, how helpful it is that we now ask about mental health in the census. The rate at which young opposite-sex attracted people experience poor mental health is epidemic at scale and must be recognised as a national crisis. Well, same-sex attracted young people experience poor mental health at twice the rate. I am lost for words to describe this.

This topic is too big to discuss here but it needs to be addressed. Opinions diverge massively. Young people are taught to feel like victims and mollycoddled, says one school of thought.

Young people are facing economic hardships, have unrealistic expectations about their careers and private lives, says another school of thought.

What appears to be clear is that Australia is a much better and safer place for same-sex attracted people than many places around the world. How do I come to that conclusion?

Let’s have a look at the country of birth of same-sex attracted folks. While only 4.5 per cent of our de facto couples born in Australia are in a same-sex relationship, 6.1 per cent of all de facto couples that were born abroad are in a same-sex relationship. The table above shows the top 10 countries of origin by share of same-sex couples.

Over 16 per cent of all Taiwan-born people living in Australia and in a de facto relationship are in a homosexual relationship. The Taiwanese aren’t any gayer than other nations; it’s just that it is a society that isn’t all that accepting of same-sex relationships. No wonder a young Taiwanese attracted to the same sex wants to move to a more accepting country.

Australia provides such an accepting culture to same-sex attracted migrants. This is something we should take pride in as a nation.

Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and how these impact Australia. Follow Simon on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn for daily data insights in short format.

This story first appeared in our sister publication The New Daily.

Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.