Academic Argument for Equality: The Economy, Stupid

Since the state of Massachusetts approved same-sex marriage in 2004 a number of university research institutes and academic departments have evaluated the economic impact of marriage equality.

A study of the first 5 years of the Massachusetts experience showed that the state attracted increasing numbers of young, highly educated same-sex professional couples, called a “creative class” by some economists.  Economic development experts argue that state policies promoting tolerance and equality attract highly mobile gay and straight creative class members whose creative energy powers economic growth.  The fact that 73% of 18 to 29 year olds support legal recognition of same-sex marriage suggests that younger educated individuals will also find states with marriage equality laws attractive places in which to live and work.

A recent illustration of this workforce dynamic took place in Washington state when Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon spoke up for the successful 2012 same-sex marriage initiative.  These forward-looking companies see support for marriage equality as a winning strategy.  Microsoft’s general counsel, Brad Smith, explained its backing in part by noting “an unprecedented national and global competition for top talent,” and that his company did not want to lose potential recruits to states with fairer laws.

Marriage equality in Massachusetts produced a $111 million boost to the economy.  Many businesses shared in the $111 million, but those associated with the more than 12,000 same-sex weddings and tourism experienced a wedding windfall (think of florists, caterers, bakers, photographers, hotels, restaurants, etc.).  Gay couples spent an average of $7,400 on weddings (4% spent more than $30,000) and averaged 16 out-of-state guests whose spending contributed to state revenues through purchases and hotel occupancy taxes and sales taxes.

Similar studies carried out on other states by economists at the University of Massachusetts and UCLA have estimated that extending marriage to same-sex couples will generate the following over a three-year period: Vermont will boost its economy by over $30.6 million; Washington state is likely to generate $88 million, and Maryland between $40 and $68 million.

The same economists project that Rhode Island stands to generate at least $1.2 million over three years if the state allows gay and lesbian couples to marry. The study also estimates that R.I. same-sex weddings would generate $400,000 in new sales dollars and that married couples would pay an estimated $786,000 in new income taxes over the same period.

Noted economist, M. Lee Badgett, director of the U Mass Center for Public Policy and Administration and study co-author said, “Allowing gay couples to marry won’t end the recession, but their spending still helps in tough times for businesses.”

Albert Lott is a social psychologist and Emeritus Professor at the University of Rhode Island. For 17 years part of his teaching and research involved the study of gay and lesbian issues.  Much of this work centered on marriage equality for same-sex couples, which he continues to study and advocate.

This series comes from a letter he wrote to Gov. Linc Chafee. Read Part 1 here.

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5 responses to “Academic Argument for Equality: The Economy, Stupid”

  1. cailin rua

    This is all very interesting but the argument that civil rights should be dependent on the economic gains they do or do not provide makes me very uneasy.  I’m sure Reno/Las Vegas weddings bring in their share of revenue to Nevada.  With R I being the last New England state to grant marriage equality to its citizens and the fact New England is not alone among states with even larger populations in the Northeast granting equal marriage rights to its citizens, does R I stand to gain economically the way Massachusetts did?  I am thinking of the sugar rush casino gambling is bringing to R I.  Estimates are being made in the hundreds of millions of how much we will lose when Massachusetts gets their casinos up and running.  

    It seems as though most of the increase in spending through granting everyone the right to marry the person of their choice will come from people who are already living here which will just result in moving money around the state that already exists here.  Inevitably, that will be the case with casino gambling.  

    I think the focus should be on civil rights and equality.  That is enough justification; really, the only justification.  The problem with marriage and the tradition of marriage as it stands is patriarchy.  It’s a patriarchal institution that was designed to protect property, property which included family members.  Arguments against marriage equality in the West always turn to Rome.  It is the system of paterfamilias, a tradition of paternalism under which all property, including human property, was controlled that needs to be changed for a truly free society to exist.  We still see the influence of paterfamilias when a father “gives away ” his daughter at a heterosexual wedding.  Marriage has been a terribly flawed institution for some time.  Marriage Equality would remove many of those flaws in the institution.  

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    1. PinkHatLib

      I don’t think the fact that MA is a nice place for creative people to live makes it any less important for Providence to lure and retain creative people. This isn’t a zero some game for southern New England. In fact, I’d argue that our proximity to other progressive states is a bonus.

      btw, it’s not simply about a few weddings. The idea is that the creative class is a key economic driver for post-industrial economies and that gay friendly policies are one way of retaining those creatives.

      See Creative class.

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      1. cailin rua

        Thanks for pointing this out, PHL.  I should have paid closer attention to what Microsoft’s spokesperson said.  I am well aware of how valuable lgbt employees can be in fields demanding high levels of creativity. I don’t question whether a windfall would be good for the state right now, either.

        Still, the reasoning applied makes me uneasy.  It’s the same reasoning used for why we need casino gambling, marijuana legalization, etc.  As wrong as Kennedy is, he is justified in worrying about tobacco companies getting rich off marijuana by commercializing it and promoting it.  Marijuana legalization, gambling and marriage equality are not analogous to each other but the justifications presented for each always seems to be based on dire economic need in a time of crisis.  

        I am well aware of what people like Alan Turing have contributed to society.  The benefits to society people like Turing provide should be emphasized.  Even if Turing were not the genius he was, however, what was done to him should never be done to anyone.  Human rights should not be dependent on how useful someone is.  As far as marriage equality is concerned, the most compelling argument for equality is equality, even in good times.  The implication that profit share was at the bottom of Microsoft’s support for lgbt rights speaks volumes about the moral/ethical vacuum that exists in the corporate world.  

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    2. PinkHatLib

      Here’s Florida in the intro to the “2O12 Municipal Equality Index”:

      *** quote ***
      Competitive Cities Care About Equality
      Members of the creative class – the 40 million workers, a third of the American workforce – the scientists and engineers, innovator and entrepreneurs, researchers and academics, architects and designers, artists, entertainers and media types and professionals in business, management, healthcare and law who power economic growth – place a huge premium on diversity. In fact, they use it as a proxy to determine whether a city will provide a welcoming and stimulating environment for them.
      Cities that demonstrate such attributes gain a competitive edge, as evidenced by their consistently higher levels of economic growth. As the journalist and demographer Bill Bishop put it, “Where gay households abound, geeks follow.”
      *** end quote ***

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  2. leftyrite

    Marriage rights equality, granted, is a civil rights issue. 

    But it also establishes further the idea that Rhode Island is a place of creativity, design, and culture. we’re free enough to make progressive choices against opposition.

    Intellectual, artistic, and creative facets of Rhode Island life, combined, make for a super-enriched environment, as people who have flocked to Newport, when they could go anywhere, have known for decades.

    Does Arizona have a Second Beach?

    Does Florida have a temporate climate?

    Does Idaho have a Belleview Avenue?

    Does the Providence Athenaeum tend to repel people like John Boehner?

    We’re coming along well. Check out Wickenden Street or Bristol or Warren or the Riverside Square that could easily support a funky arts/beach culture, so prominent in California.

    The idea is to promote design, creativity, and the arts, en masse as Rhode Islanders and as individuals.

    The money influx wil come largely from just south of us, but the cautionary tales associated with big box culture could also come more subtlely from large format money. Fight arbitrage on all fronts.

    Keep creating, keep inviting friends in, keep positive. Don’t let greedy folk run us.

    Don’t get flummoxed by drawbacks like gambling. Upgrade the culture in other ways, attracting tourism, and gambling can become a footnote, raising the level of its own game with the quality of the broader crowd. Let the fools play chemin de fer.

    We’re living on some of the most beautiful real estate in the world. Sixteenth and seventeenth century mariners knew that. Why don’t we?

    By 1776, Rhode Island had been established for a hundred and forty years. Rhode Islanders had long been free within their own minds. They were among the very first to reject Empire and colonialism.

    We’re not opportunistic colonials; we are an advanced free people.

    We should take strength from those who have preceded us and control our own fate through the marketing of Rhode Island, and New England, as the cradles of modern freedoms and modern thought. 

    We can do this daily by freeing ourselves from the cumbersome psychological ozone of that which is dying, anyway.

    To creativity. To freedom. To a beautiful Rhode Island, a destination place for enlightened tourism and eclectic settlement.

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