Finding Gay Rural America

The number of same-sex couples has increased by half since the last Census. And a good number of those couples are living in rural or exurban America. The Yonder finds the rural counties with the largest numbers of gay couples.

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The largest concentration of same-sex couples in rural America can be found in Sussex County, Delaware. 

The number of same-sex couples has been expanding, according to the U.S. Census — and those couples are spreading out across the country. Gary Gates, a demographer at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been tracking same-sex couples for years and he reports that the number has increased by half in the past decade, to 901,997.

The Census asks about the composition of households. Gates uses the number of same-sex couples as a way to measure the location of gay Americans.

More than 8 out of 10 of the country’s same-sex couples live in urban counties. Rural counties have just 12 percent of the nation’s same-sex couples and exurban counties have 7 percent.

While same-sex couples do tend to congregate in cities, there are a number of rural counties with large numbers of gay couples, according to a Daily Yonder analysis of Gates’s figures. 

The map above shows the location of rural and exurban counties with large numbers of same sex couples. Dark purple counties are rural communities with more than 200 same-sex couples. (Lighter purple counties are rural communities with 100-200 same-sex couples.) Click on the map to see a larger version. Or click here.

Dark green counties are exurban counties with more than 200 same sex couples; lighter green counties have between 100 and 200 same sex couples.

(Exurban counties are part of large metropolitan areas, though about half of their residents live in rural settings.)

Rural counties with large numbers of same-sex couples are spread across the country. New England has a large number of these counties — but so does North Carolina. And East Texas, Alabama and rural Kentucky also have large concentrations of same-sex couples.

More places are reporting higher numbers of gay couples as the social stigmas surrounding sexual orientation ease. And as people begin to retire, they also begin to move away from central cities. “As the baby boomer generation ages into retirement,” Mr. Gates told the New York Times, “we see its impact really strongly in the geography.” 

Female same-sex couples are more likely than male couples to live in rural areas.

There are more female same-sex couples than male. Nationally, nearly 60 percent of same-sex couples are female. As you can see in the chart below, just over 57 percent of the same sex couples in urban counties are female. 

In rural counties, however, nearly 69 percent of same-sex couples are female and in exurban counties, it’s 70 percent.

[img:femaleheaded.jpg]Gates told the Daily Yonder that this reflected differences in wages and child-rearing. “Men make more money than women,” Gates said, and so women have a harder time affording more expensive urban areas. And, he said, female couples were more likely to have children than male couples — and “people with children prefer exurban and rural areas to urban locations.”

Here are the 50 rural counties with the largest numbers of same-sex households.

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Here are the 50 exurban counties with the largest numbers of same-sex households.

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