Sometimes statistics can give rise to a piece of journalism. New York Times magazine contributing writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a resident of Boston, found that 700 gay men age 29 or younger were wed in the state of Massachusetts between May 2004 and June 2007.
What resulted is a 7000-word New York Times magazine cover story, published this weekend.
This number sounds like a statistical anomaly! It certainly is.
From 2004 and 2006, 8100 gay couples were married in Massachusetts.
So Denizet-Lewis’ 350 gay male couples that are 29 and younger make up fewer than 4.3% of gay marriages in Massachusetts—a percentage that shrinks if you then take into account the number of 2007 and 2008 gay marriages.
Not only are his young gay men a very small percentage of gay marriages in Massachusetts, they are also a statistically insignificant to both the state’s population and its marriages overall.
There are nearly 6.5 million Massachusetts residents, according to the 2006 American Community Survey. About 20% of those residents (1.25 million) are between 20 and 34 years old.
So those 700 married gay men 29 and younger are much fewer than .00056% of the population of people of that age.
Of all men older than 15 in Mass—there are 2.5 million of them—1.26 million are married, and nearly 300,000 more are divorced, separated and widowed.
So Denizet-Lewis’s young married men account for .000448% of married men in the state.
The median age of first marriage in Massachusetts is 29.1 years old; nationally, the median age of first marriage is around 27 years old (the Northeast is generally later to marry than the rest of the U.S.).
Overall, then, the number of gay men under 30 getting married is, statistically, significantly much smaller than the number of heterosexual men getting married.
Meanwhile, twice as many lesbians as gay men have married each other in Massachusetts, but apparently no one wants to hear about them. “I sort of feel like we’re on this island out here by ourselves,” says one of Denizet-Lewis’ young married gays. In terms of a trend in gay marriage, he absolutely is.
UPDATE: “When you say gay couples, you must be including lesbians?”
wrote Denizet-Lewis in an email. Why, yes. “Also, just because 700 young gay men 29 or under got married, that doesn’t mean there are only 350 gay male couples where one or both men is in their twenties.
Some of the young men got married to men in their thirties or forties,” he wrote.
So comparing “gay couples” versus actual gays is slightly apples and oranges–sometimes gays marry across the decades! Go figure. But, the total number of gays is, handily enough, an absolute number.
If there are 700 gays under 30 who have been married in Massachusetts, then, given that there were 16,200 gays married between 2004 and 2006 (a number provided by Mass Equality, the Massachusetts gay rights group), the percentage is very slightly higher. If, say, a third of gay people married are men, because lesbians are so much more likely to get married (not that anyone apparently cares!), then that’s 5400 gay men getting married in two years.
700 gay men under 30 is 7.7% of 5400, to throw a rough number against the wall.
Also! “The percentage [of young gay men getting married] is actually is higher in 2007,” he wrote in an email. Or, really, it should be pointed out, the percentage of older gay men getting married is actually lower. Gay marriage rates, particularly among long-term couples (they already got married!), have dropped since the booms of
2004 and 2005.
Finally, Denizet-Lewis wanted it to be clear his story was not intended to be a “trend piece.” It isn’t–not in terms of a Sunday Styles spectacular. But although it lacks those trappings, what else can the story be when an author points out a small group of people that are united by a common activity?