"Demography" is the study of human populations, using statistics to describe
conditions of life. Demographers consider a range of information about the
size and density of populations, the ages of their members, and how
populations change. Births, deaths, disease, marriages, divorces,
immigration, economic standing, occupation, race, ethnic and country of
origin all are subjects for the demographer.
New York City is unique and fascinating demographically. Recently, it has
had large numbers of foreign immigrants arriving, many long-standing
residents leaving, an increase in the gap between the rich and the poor, and
a rise in the black middle class. It is a city of unique ethnic and racial
diversity; it has a large older population. It was the home of many
immigrants during the turn of the 20th Century. It was a destination for
many African Americans from the Southern United States. Many residents of
the City's suburbs fled New York City starting after World War II. In some
areas of the city there is rapid growth fueled by immigrants and their
children. Some areas are undergoing racial and ethnic transition; others
are gentrifying. These trends are important for understanding the Ccty and
Andrew A. Beveridge has taught
sociology at Queens College since 1981. Since 1993 he has done demographic
analyses and consulted for the New York Times. He has provided expert
testimony in districting and redistricting, housing discrimination, and
numerous other civil rights cases in the metropolitan area and elsewhere.
The opinions expressed in Topics are his alone.
(July '01) The U.S. Census reported last month that New York City has at least
25,906 gay households, a threefold increase since 1990. This would translate
into about 52,000 gay New Yorkers, or just under one percent of the
population that is 18 years of age or older.
This could of course be accurate - if you did not count any of the gay people
in Chelsea, Park Slope or Greenwich Village.
How could the United States Census be so off the mark?
It would not be the first time that gay people were underestimated - or, to
put it more accurately, were inaccurately accounted for. There was no real
effort even to estimate the population of gay people in the country until
pioneering research Alfred Kinsey declared in the 1940's that gay men
comprised ten percent of all adult males. But Kinsey's data were not very
valid, since they were based on interviews with a sample that was not
scientifically random. Those who were interviewed had volunteered.
During the senior George Bush's administration, a major study of sexuality
was to be launched, so that a reliable estimate could be made of various
sexual practices to help
understand the potential spread of AIDS. The Bush administration killed the
study, but a consortium of private foundations funded a smaller version
carried out by researchers at the University of Chicago. Combined with other
data sources it still provides
the best estimate of the size of the gay population, even though it was
completed in 1994. (It resulted in the book The Social Organization of
Sexuality by Edward Laumann, John Gagnon, Robert T. Michael and Stuart
For the United States as a whole the numbers were 2.6 percent for men and 1.1
percent for women. For small cities and towns and rural areas the percent
was smaller. But about 9.2 percent of men and 2.6 percent of women (aged 18
to 59) living in the central cities of the 12 largest metropolitan areas
reported that they identify as homosexual. (And a larger percentage reported
engaging in sexual activity with members of the same gender, but did not
identify themselves as gay).
Applying these numbers to New York City, one would expect that at least six
percent of New York City adults are gay, or about 360,000. This number is
quite consistent with exit poll results, which ask sexual orientation. In
truth, since so many gay people are drawn to New York City, the number is
likely to be at least 500,000 - or about ten times greater than what the
In 1990, the Census added a new category "unmarried partner" to get at the
large numbers of people, mostly heterosexual couples, who were living
together in a relationship but were not married. Since the gender of the
partners could be recorded, for the first time there was a way to make a
count of what were likely to be gay couples. The 2000 Census refined the
question a little about the "relationship to the head of the household." Of
course, not all gay people are living with partners, and not all people who
live together are in a romantic relationship, and not everybody could
understand the nuances of the question. But at least now gay New Yorkers
officially - albeit rather indirectly -- exist.
Five Sites For Beginners:
Bureau - Hands-down candidate for the richest source of post-1990
population data for NYC. Here you will find annual updates detailing
age and sex, race and Hispanic origin, as well as births, deaths, net
domestic migration and net international migration. Excellent special
feature: county-by-county estimates of the below poverty level
population. Indispensable and superb.
Also courtesy of the US Census Bureau. Features data on population and
housing, industry and business as well as a searchable database on any
other demographic information you could possibly want. Available by
state, metro or urbanized area. Maps too!
of Labor - Another exemplary source is the Local Area Unemployment
Statistics unit of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each month the
Bureau, in a joint undertaking with the State, provides county by
county estimates of the employment status of the working age
Commerce Department - A comprehensive handle on where and how New
Yorkers earn their livings. Also features information on Big Apple
employers, salaries, industries and their revenues. Especially
recommended is a database maintained as part of Commerce's Regional
York Metropolitan Transportation Council - One of the more
ambitious on-line undertakings in making regional and city statistical
data. Contains data on population, employment and income, to name a
few. Not always easy to use, but well worth the effort.
New York City Department
of Health -- Though the website of New York City's Department of
Health is utterly confusing, their annual publication, "Summary of
Vital Statistics for New York" is indispensable for would be students
of population dynamics. And it's free. Call the Press Office at
212-788-5290 and ask for the Office of Vital Statistics and
New York City Department
of City Planning - One would think that the DCP would have put its
population data base on-line in a user-friendly way. But no. Go figure.
It's still worth looking at their website to see the lineup of
potential sources and types of population and economic information.
York City's Housing and Vacancy Survey - Every three years or so
the US Census Bureau provides New York City with a census-type survey
of the city's households. Mandated by the rent regulation law, it
contains much that is of interest to those concerned with social and
economic change at the borough and neighborhood level. A compact disc
containing the microdata files for the 1991, 1993 and 1996 surveys can
be purchased from the Census Bureau. The survey for 1999 will be
available for analysts by 2000, scooping the decennial Census.