How many people in Ireland are gay?

Published: March 27, 2015

Carl O’ Brien
Original Article:

Ireland has witnessed significant social change and sometimes dizzying levels of diversity in recent decades. Does that extend to a new willingness to talk about sexuality? And, more specifically, how comfortable are gays and lesbians about disclosing their sexual orientation?

When the Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI Family Values poll asked people to describe their sexuality, one in 25 – or 4 per cent – of respondents described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. The real figure may well be higher, given that 10 per cent of people polled chose not to answer the question. (The margin of error on the 4 per cent statistic was 1.3 per cent.)

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One reason is that a figure of 10 per cent for the proportion of homosexuals in the population has persisted as a widely accepted guesstimate. This number seems to have made its way into the public consciousness on foot of the Kinsey reports, two books – Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female – based on research led by Alfred Kinsey, a zoologist at Indiana University, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Although the reports broke long-held taboos on reporting sexual orientation, Kinsey’s methodology has been strongly critised for over-representing the gay and lesbian population.

But using contemporary opinion polls as a reference, the 4 per cent figure in the Irish Times poll ranks towards the higher end of most surveys. In the UK, for example, a benchmark study by its Office for National Statistics estimated that just 1.5 per cent of people were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

In Australia a national sample put the figure at 3 per cent; in the US the most widely cited national poll in recent years indicates that homosexuality rates are 3.5 per cent.

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