Do laws shape attitudes? Or do they simply reflect them? A new IZA discussion paper by Cevat Giray Aksoy (EBRD, IZA, London School of Economics), Christopher Carpenter (Vanderbilt University, IZA, NBER), Ralph De Haas (EBRD and Tilburg University) and Kevin Tran (DIW Berlin) answers these questions by using a large cross-national dataset from Europe. Specifically, they examine whether the gradual rollout of same-sex relationship recognition policies improved attitudes toward sexual minorities.
The researchers find that the introduction of a relationship recognition law for same-sex couples is associated with a statistically significant 3.6 percentage point increase in the likelihood that a respondent agreed that “gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish”. In other words, the adoption of expanded relationship recognition policies for same-sex couples can explain more than one-third of the overall improvement in attitudes toward sexual minorities between 2002 and 2016. They also document that the effects identified emerge only after policy adoption, suggesting that the policies cause changes in attitudes (and not vice versa).
The study also shows that the effects of same-sex relationship policies are unique to LGBT attitudes: there is no systematic relation between these policies and people’s views on other social and economic issues (including attitudes toward other minority groups such as immigrants). The improvements in attitudes can also be observed across many demographic groups.
Studying these policy changes is timely because advancements in civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals throughout Europe and the Americas have been some of the most striking social changes in recent decades. The results of the study suggest that as marriage equality and other relationship recognition policies continue to expand throughout the world, one might expect to observe continued improvements in attitudes towards sexual minorities. This could translate into less discrimination (or more inclusion) in labor and housing markets, improved mental health for sexual minorities, and a range of other potential benefits associated with less anti-LGBT sentiment.
Bullying in school and at work
One such benefit could be fewer instances of bullying experienced by sexual orientation minorities, which is a phenomenon that tends to persist over time, according to another recent IZA discussion paper by Nick Drydakis (Anglia Ruskin University, IZA). His estimations suggests that school-age bullying of LGB people is associated with victims’ lower educational level and occupational sorting into non-white-collar jobs, especially for gay/bisexual men. School-age bullying also appears to be positively associated with workplace bullying and negatively associated with job satisfaction.
In an IZA World of Labor article, Drykadis summarizes more international research findings on how sexual orientation affects job access and satisfaction, earnings prospects, and interaction with colleagues.