A new survey claims that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) South Africans are better educated, wealthier and bigger spenders than their heterosexual counterparts. But do these conclusions really hold water?

While much research is available on the spending power of LGBT communities in the USA, little information is available on the South African market. It’s for this reason that Pink Advertising – an agency specialising in placing advertising in LGBT media – commissioned Freshly Ground Insights to conduct a survey profiling this community.

The web-based self-completion survey’s sample group comprises males and females; gay and bisexual; and a majority age group of 18 and older (46.39% are between the ages of 25 and 34). Despite the sample group being under 300 people, Pink Advertising says that, based on the assumption that 10% of the population is gay, the current sample is credible.

The sample however is problematic: Consider that 94.5% of the respondents are homosexual men – almost completely excluding lesbians and bisexual and transgender people. “This is due to the questionnaire being circulated mainly in gay men’s media,” explains Morne Ebersohn, head of Pink Advertising. Furthermore, the agency also revealed that 89% of respondents are white; 4.81% coloured; 3.78% Indian and 2.41% black – hardly representative of our population.

Bearing all this in mind, the reality is that the survey cannot be considered to be a comprehensive overview of the LGBT market, but rather a snapshot of the South African white, gay male who has internet access (which remains expensive and limited in South Africa). Unlike in other countries where internet access is pervasive, a web-survey has limited value here when one wants to assess the wider LGBT community.

The results have been mapped with AMPS (a national survey of South African’s media usage and spending habits conducted by the South African Advertising Research Foundation ), where possible, by the researchers. Unsurprisingly, the results suggest that this group is well-educated and has money to spend. Pink Advertising has released preliminary results from the survey, some of which are reproduced below.

Survey results – Education and employment:

Mapped against AMPS, a gay person is 12 times more likely to have a post-matric qualification than his/her heterosexual counterparts. Some 73% of respondents are employed full-time, usually in the professional, managerial or administrative sectors. 18.21% are self-employed.

Ebersohn highlights the fact that the respondents show an average personal income of R24,080 per month, some five times the average income in South Africa. “In many cases, we are dealing with DINKS – double income, no kids – with purchase decision making power.”

Survey results – activities:

While most respondents came from Gauteng (64.60%) and the Western Cape (21.65%), the slant could be seen as having been influenced by [the] media [in which the survey was promoted]. Mapped against AMPS, this market is 20 times more likely to attend live theatre, opera and concerts; seven times more likely to go to movies and twice as likely to eat in restaurants as their counterparts.

There is also a propensity to be more active than the average in the AMPS universe, with 45.70% participating in walking/hiking; 39.52% jogging/running; 34.02% dancing; 22.68% taking part in adventure sports like skydiving and bungee jumping and even 18.56% enjoying fishing.

“This is a health-conscious market,” says Ebersohn, “who actively participate in activities that support a healthy lifestyle. Around 15% watch rugby, but there is not much appetite for boxing and wrestling.” DIY activities see a participation of 38.49% of this market, and 41.24% attend a gym. Cooking for pleasure, dining out, gardening and studying part time all feature on their list of activities, and some 47.77% take work home regularly.

According to the stats, this is a highly communicative and socially active group, with homosexuals 12 times more likely to send SMSs. Braais and dinner parties are high on the social agenda; around 67% enjoy shopping for pleasure and 54.64% read books.

The music favoured by this market is varied: They are nine times more likely to listen to hard rock; five times more likely to play heavy metal on their stereos; and many favour classical and Afrikaans music.

Survey results – Shopping and travel:

“Gays and lesbians in South Africa are prolific consumers,” says Ebersohn. “Small electrical appliances (85.22%) and household accessories (84.19%) are high on their agenda, with furniture and large household appliances following closely.”

“It is interesting to note that respondents to this study showed a high propensity to use cash rather than credit,” says Ebersohn. “Also that most gay and lesbian South Africans spend money on technology, verifying the modern and sophisticated lifestyles this community appears to live.”

Some 97% of the samples indicate that they go away on holiday, with the prime destination being Cape Town (30.93%). Around 9% choose Durban and the same number opt to go abroad. Thailand, the USA, Italy and the UK are all favourite destinations, and 5.15% get away to African game reserves.

“This indicates that one in three of our respondents visit Cape Town, with their preferred method of travel being flying and then hiring a car on arrival,” says Ebersohn.

A conclusion?

As it stands, the survey is useful – and Pink Advertising must be commended for its undertaking and for freely distributing the results – but it is not the comprehensive overview of the LGBT community that many have been hoping for.

Ebersohn acknowledges that the survey, which will ongoing until the end of the year here, has some limitations and says that efforts will be made to grow the sample size and broaden the gender and racial profile of the respondents.

It is a start, but to have real comprehensive value a survey of the LGBT market must get into the trenches and connect with all LGBT South Africans in their homes, clubs and workplaces. The simplest route would be for a question on one’s sexual orientation to be included in the AMPS survey, something which Ebersohn says he has lobbied for.

Only when a significantly representative range of LGBT South Africans are surveyed will we really know whether the long-held belief that our country’s gays and lesbian are indeed big spenders and appealing targets for marketers is a reality or a myth.

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