USD Sociologist Finds Attitudes Towards Gays have Grown More Accepting Around the World

Louisa Roberts Headshot Louisa Roberts, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, published a new study in Social Science Research.

VERMILLION, S.D. – According to a new study authored by Louisa Roberts, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at the University of South Dakota, people around the globe became more accepting of homosexuality between 1981 and 2012.

“We already knew that attitudes toward homosexuality had become more positive in Western countries. But these results show that attitudes have also become more favorable in other world regions, for example in Latin America and much of Asia,” said Roberts.  

Roberts’ study, which appears in the journal Social Science Research, is unprecedented in its timespan and global reach. The study is the first to examine over 30 years’ worth of data on average national attitudes from 87 countries that together include 85 percent of the world’s population. The data are from the integrated World Values Survey/European Values Survey.

The study attributes the increased acceptance to the influence of cultural globalization. Acceptance of gays and lesbians increased fastest in countries that had more educated populations and greater access to the Internet, television and other broad communications platforms.

“Acceptance of homosexuality has increasingly become an international norm. Thus, the societies that have been most exposed to international flows of information and ideas have tended to change the fastest,” says Roberts.

Nevertheless, acceptance of same-sex sexuality remains far from universal. Despite the broad increases, the study finds acceptance is still low in many parts of the world and has grown slowest in the Muslim world, sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet and Eastern Bloc countries. Anti-gay rhetoric among political and religious leaders may have suppressed the rate of change in these countries. For example, leaders in Africa and the Middle East have depicted homosexuality as a decadent Western import that is contrary to local values.

In addition, exposure to the international flow of ideas was not found to promote acceptance in all cases.

“In most countries, more exposure to the international flow of ideas was associated with faster increases in acceptance," Roberts said. "But that wasn’t true for the highly religious societies. It appears that in more religious societies, people were likely to reject pro-gay ideas when exposed to them."

Despite continued variation in attitudes toward homosexuality, the study nevertheless indicates that people around the world live in an increasingly global community.

“Average attitudes became more accepting in most countries and across most regions between 1981 and 2012. Everyone’s attitudes changed at the same time," said Roberts. "That suggests that most of us are on the same cultural wavelength, at least to some extent.” 

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