From Deviant to Widely Recognized: The Unprecedented Changes in Americans’ Attitudes Toward Homosexuality, 1974–2016

Langou Lian , University of California, Irvine

Attitudes toward homosexuality in American society underwent a fundamental shift in the last half century, with the share of the American public holding a favorable opinion increasing from 13% in the mid-1970s to 52% in the mid-2010s. Building on other longitudinal studies, this research moves beyond explanations based on demographic changes and generational replacement, and further assesses the roles of broader social-historical changes. Using data from the General Social Survey, analyses show that the shift in public opinion was not linear over time, and mirrored unique social changes related to homosexuality in the United States. Social-historical transformations after the AIDS epidemic led to a great increase in approval of same-sex relations on average, with demographic differences in attitudes also exacerbated after this time. Several theories are offered to explain this shift in attitudes and the increase in divergence among different demographic groups.

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 Presented in Session 9. Marriage, Family, Households, & Unions; Gender, Race, & Ethnicity