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Nation-first study shows young women bearing the brunt of gender wars

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This is the first time Australia has had “comprehensive, nationally representative data on the prevalence of diversity in both gender and sexuality identities. Photo: Unsplash
This is the first time Australia has had “comprehensive, nationally representative data on the prevalence of diversity in both gender and sexuality identities. Photo: Unsplash

The largest and most comprehensive study of sexual and gender identity in Australia, led by an academic from the Australian Catholic University, has found that 17.7 per cent of youth aged 16-24 identify with a “diverse” (non-heterosexual) sexual identity, and 2.3 with a diverse gender expression.

But contrary to the view of sexuality as a fluid “spectrum,” the survey reveals the most significant shifts are taking place among women under the age of 24, rather than being distributed evenly.

The study, led by Professor Daryl Higgins from ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies and published on 12 January, is the first time Australia has had “comprehensive, nationally representative data on the prevalence of diversity in both gender and sexuality identities,” setting a new benchmark for public discussion of gender matters.

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The survey broke down responses into three age brackets: 16-24, 25-44, and 45+ years old. The under 24s were surveyed more intensely, and the results weighted by percentage for parity.

The results were split into data about gender and sexual identities—the first about the respondent’s gender identity (ie. male, female, or “diverse gender”) and the second about sexual identity (heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian etc.).

Among the under 24s, the group most intensely embroiled in gender discourse, all diverse gender identities still amounted to only 2.3 per cent of responses, with most of those falling into the categories of non-binary, gender fluid or “don’t know/refused.”

Biological women accounted for a larger share of the gender diverse presentation among the under 24s (49.1 per cent of respondents describing themselves as men vs only 48.6 per cent as women) compared to the 25-44s, who were almost at parity (49.7 per cent of respondents identifying as men and 49.3 per cent as women).

The “non-binary” rate among youth increased from 0.2 to 1.3 per cent compared to the 25-44 age group.

All up, the study estimates that 196,000 Australians now identify as having a “diverse gender,” of which 53,100 are non-binary. Of those non-binaries, 37,200 are under 24.

Gender fluid and “don’t know” were the next two most populated categories, at an estimated 0.5 per cent of under 24s.

Regarding sexual identity, the study found that the percentage of heterosexuals fell around seven per cent (88.4 per cent of 25-44s, vs 81.1 per cent of 16-24s) and the percentage of sexually diverse people increased from 9.8 to 17.7 per cent.

But a large segment of this shift was attributable to an explosion in the rate of young people identifying as bisexual—most of them young women, who were also over-represented as non-binary and associated gender identity categories.

Only 76.2 per cent of women under 24 now identify as heterosexual, with 14.9 per cent of them describing themselves as bisexual, compared to 5.5 per cent of women aged 25-44.

Women under 24 were also three times as likely as men to identify as “pansexual” and more than twice as likely to prefer not to label themselves at all.

In fact, “diverse gender” respondents under 24 (ie. non-binary, trans and other gender identities) who are more likely to have been born female, are also more likely to identify as bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or queer than gay or lesbian.

Accordingly, Australians identifying straightforwardly as “gay or lesbian” actually decreased from 2.9 to 2.4 per cent between 25-44 year olds and under 24s.

Across all three age groups (under 24s, 25-44, and 45+) the study concluded that 9.5 per cent of Australians identify with a diverse sexuality and 0.9 per cent with a diverse gender identity.

The study also concluded that gender and sexual diversity was independent of socio-economic status, and that Australians with diverse gender and sexual identities were more likely to experience neglect or abuse.

Shockingly, the prevalence of any kind of child maltreatment among under 24s reporting diverse gender identity was 90.5 per cent, with women reporting 65 per cent and men 55.5 per cent.

While the survey noted that young people with diverse gender or sexual identities are gravely overrepresented as suffering maltreatment, it did not venture into the question of causation.

“With such stark differences in the prevalence of maltreatment between those with and without diverse genders and sexualities, researchers may wonder if these variables are causally related,” the authors said.

“Further research is needed to explore, for example, whether those children/adolescents with early indications of gender or sexuality diversity make them more vulnerable to abuse and neglect, or—conversely—does experiencing childhood abuse and/or neglect—or subsequent discrimination and victimisation in adulthood—make people more likely to identify in diverse ways either during childhood/adolescence or adulthood, or the role of family rejection of children with emerging diverse entities, or their rejection of unaccepting and rejecting family.”

The survey recommended that clinicians, “pay attention to the significantly higher likelihood that adults who identify as a sexuality or gender minority will have experienced multiple forms of child maltreatment.”

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