Economic Independence of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care

The transition from foster care to adulthood can be difficult for all young people, but young people in foster care who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) may face unique barriers to achieving economic independence. We analyzed data from the Midwest Study of the Adult Functioning of Foster Youth (the “Midwest Study”) to determine whether LGB youth fared as well economically after transitioning out of foster care as their non-LGB peers.

What we did

The Midwest Study followed more than 700 young people from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois as they aged out of foster care and transitioned to adulthood. Participants were surveyed at ages 17 or 18, 19, 21, 23 or 24, and 26 about a range of experiences including education, employment, housing, justice system involvement and physical and mental health.

To examine change in sexual orientation over time, we limited our analysis to the 435 young people from whom all five waves of data were collected. Respondents were categorized as heterosexual if they identified themselves as “100 percent heterosexual,” as LGB if they identified themselves as something other than 100 percent heterosexual, or as missing data.

Our analysis of economic well-being focused on the 591 study participants who were interviewed at wave three when they were 21 years old. This was the first wave of data collected after all of the study participants had aged out of foster care.

What we found

At age 21, 74% of the study participants were categorized as heterosexual and 11% were categorized as LGB. Data on sexual orientation were missing for 15%.

  • On a number of our measures of economic wellbeing, we found no differences between the LGB and heterosexual study participants:
  • LGB study participants and their heterosexual peers had similar levels of education and similar rates of employment.
  • LGB study participants were no more likely than their heterosexual peers to have experienced homelessness.

We also found differences in several key outcomes:

  • LGB study participants who were employed earned, on average, over a dollar less per hour than their heterosexual peers.
  • Sixty-one percent of LBG study participants experienced one or more economic hardships compared to only 47% of their heterosexual peers.
  • LBG study participants were more likely than their heterosexual peers to meet the criteria for being food insecure and to have received food stamps.

What it means

This analysis suggests that LGB youth aging out of foster care may be at significant risk for not achieving self-sufficiency as they transition to adulthood. This was reflected in the high levels of economic hardship food insecurity, and homelessness we observed among LGB study participants.

We also found that study participants who were categorized as LGB were not, for the most part, substantially worse off economically than their heterosexual peers. These results suggest that young people aging out of foster care, regardless of their sexual orientation, would stand to benefit from interventions aimed at promoting self-sufficiency.

Recommended Citation
Dworsky, A. (2013). The Economic Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth Transitioning Out of Foster Care, OPRE Report #2012-41. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report is available for download at the U.S. Administration for Children and Families website, linked below.

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