Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gay rights vs national prosperity

The other day I saw a post on reddit via /r/bestof that was a counter to the claim that "Every civilization that has accepted homosexuality has failed".  I've never heard this argument, but I'll accept that some people actually claim it's true.  The rebuttal was a list of several modern countries that banned homosexuality and several that had many gay rights; the latter countries were the ones that were more well off.

While his argument seemed reasonable, it would be easy to fall victim to selection bias by picking the examples that you are well aware of.  I wanted to see if there actually was a correlation between gay rights and national prosperity.

Quantifying national prosperity is a common task.  I chose GDP (PPP) per capita, GNI per capita, GNI (PPP) per capita, and HDI.  HDI combines GNI (PPP) per capita with a education index and a life expediency index.

Quantifying gay rights was harder.  I knew of a survey that asked if gays should be accepted, but it wasn't asked in many countries.  I thought about using years that homosexuality had been legal or the punishment if it was still illegal.  However, as I was looking that up I found this Wikipedia page that listed 7 types of LGBT rights for each country.  They are: legality, civil union or similar, marriage, adoption, gays in military, anti-discrimination laws, and laws related to gender identity.  Each category has a green check or red x in it for each country.  I gave 1 point for a check, 0 for a x, and 0.5 points for both or a ? (eg, the US gets 0.5 for marriage since it's legal in some places and illegal in others).  Note here, that regardless of how you feel about those 7 things, it is safe to say that a country with more green checks is more friendly towards gays, and that is what we are trying to quantify here.

The results were pretty similar for each of the 4 measures of prosperity.  All were just about a 0.70 correlation between gay rights and prosperity, which is quite high indeed.  I used the 125 most populous countries.  Just for fun, I also looked at the correlation between population and gay rights, and as expected I found none (-0.04).

GNI (PPP) GNI HDI GDP (PPP) Population
0.70 0.68 0.69 0.68 -0.04

Scatter plots are always fun so here are some of those:


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