Research Advisory Board Spotlight Series - M. V. Lee Badgett

11 July 2019

Because all of Open For Business’s advocacy work is grounded in knowledge and research, we construct and promote the economic and business case for LGBT+ inclusion. While we continuously work with coalition partners to develop new research to strengthen the evidence base, our Research Advisory Board plays a critical role in ensuring the economic case is comprehensive and up to date by providing guidance and feedback on the new research we publish.

Our Research Advisory Board consists of six distinguished experts who are well-respected and accomplished in their respective fields. In the coming weeks and months, we will be publishing a six-part series that will feature each Research Advisory Board member and shed more light on the experts that strengthen the rigor of our research as well as ensure the economic case for LGBT+ inclusion is even more robust.

In the first of the six-part Research Advisory Board Spotlight Series, we spoke with M. V. Lee Badgett to hear her story.

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What motivated you to focus your work on LGBT+ issues?

I originally got into this area of research because I read a story about allegedly affluent gay people in the Wall Street Journal and I saw that the misleading data was later used to justify bad policies. My training as a labor economist—plus my personal knowledge as a lesbian—led me to doubt that societies steeped in homophobia and transphobia would result in LGBT+ people earning more than the typical person. I found better data to analyze, and it turned out that there is a wage gap for gay and bisexual men, who earn less than straight men with the same qualifications. This research helped debunk that myth of affluence and generated a lot of interest from policymakers and the media. I started hearing other questions in policy debates related to LGBT+ people, including employer compensation, marriage equality or poverty, and I started doing more economic research and policy analysis to answer them—making a career out of it.

What are the challenges facing LGBT+ research?

The biggest challenge has always been getting data. We worked hard to convince statistical agencies to add sexual orientation and gender identity questions to surveys in the U.S., and we now have a lot more data than we used to. We can study economic, social and health differences between LGBT+ people and cisgender, heterosexual people on a detailed level. But that is only true in a small number of countries, and even in the US we need much more data on transgender people and intersex people. We need better data in all countries to understand the challenges faced by LGBT+ people and to figure out how to promote equality and inclusion.

Are there any particular areas in LGBT+ research which you think have not been appropriately covered and should deserve more attention?

In economics, I think we need much more research in the economic development area. We also need to study how to reduce prejudice toward LGBT+ people and how to increase economic opportunities for LGBT+ people, particularly for those in the most precarious economic positions.

Could you describe one moment when you felt particularly proud about your work?

For about ten years, I did a lot of research on economic inequality for same-sex couples and their families because they were denied the right to marry, and I also wrote a book that showed letting same-sex couples marry would not harm the institution of marriage. That research led to my being an expert witness in the court case in California that eventually resulted in same-sex couples being able to marry there. The judge used some of my testimony in his decision, along with the testimonies of the other social scientists and historians, and I’m very proud of being a part of that case.

Is there a piece of work on LGBT+ issues which you feel is particularly unique or interesting? Tell us more.

I am a big fan of using experiments to see if LGBT+ people are treated the same way as non-LGBT+ people in hiring, education or other settings. In the employment realm, for example, researchers create fictional resumes of two people who have very similar qualifications. They make one of those fictional people LGBT+ by saying they volunteered for an LGBT+ organization, or by noting that they once used a different name (for transgender applicants). These LGBT+ applicants are almost always less likely to get an invitation to an interview. It is very persuasive evidence of discrimination, because the qualifications are exactly the same.

There are many organizations out there advocating for LGBT+ inclusion. In your opinion, what is the unique role that Open For Business plays?

Open For Business has a very clear strategy for promoting LGBT+ inclusion. They have brought together big companies with powerful voices to speak as one in contexts that need to hear how inclusion is good for economies. Pulling together existing evidence on the economic and business case for LGBT+ inclusion and amplifying it through media and policy connections is so important. It is also exciting to see Open For Business building partnerships with local researchers and organizations to expand research and use it to argue for inclusion.  

About M. V. Lee Badgett

M. V. Lee Badgett is an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Williams Distinguished Scholar at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law & Public Policy at UCLA School of Law. An expert in economic and policy issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, her own research has helped change the world by debunking myths about LGBT people and, as an expert witness in the Proposition 8 Trial, by demonstrating the benefits of marriage equality for same-sex couples and society.

Badgett is also the author of When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage; she has written for the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Nation and has been featured on NPR and CNN.

Her latest book is The Public Professor: How To Use Your Research To Change The World and her new book, The Economic Case for LGBT Equality: Why Fairness and Equality Benefit Us All, will be out from Beacon Press next spring.