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Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Demographics
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"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.
The Context
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 its evolution.
The Reporter
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.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Demographics.

by Andrew Beveridge

Counting Gay New York

(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 Michaels.)

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 Census reported.

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:

  • US Census 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.
  • American FactFinder - 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!
  • US/NYS Departments 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 population.
  • U.S. 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 Accounts.
  • New 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.

Other Recommendations:

  • 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 Epidemeology. Persevere.
  • 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.
  • New 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.

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