About 1.6 million people in the United States are transgender, and 43% of them are young adults or teenagers, according to a new report that provides the latest national estimates of that population.
The analysis, based on government health surveys conducted from 2017 to 2020, estimated that 1.4% of 13- to 17-year-olds and 1.3% of 18- to 24-year-olds were transgender, compared with about 0. 5% of all adults.
These numbers revealed a significant increase among young people: the estimate of transgender people aged 13-25 has almost doubled since the researchers’ previous report, published in 2017, although the reports used different methods.
The data points to a stark generational shift. Young people increasingly have the language and social acceptance to explore their gender identities, experts said, while older adults may feel more self-conscious. But the numbers, which vary greatly from state to state, also raise questions about possible cultural factors, such as the role of peer influence or the political climate of the community.
“It’s developmentally appropriate for teens to explore all facets of their identity – that’s what teens do,” said Dr. Angela Goepferd, medical director of the Gender Health Program at Children’s Hospital of Minnesota, who was not involved in the new analysis. “And, generationally, gender has become part of the identity of someone who is more socially acceptable to explore.”
Dr. Goepferd, who is non-binary, noted that many teenagers don’t necessarily want or need medication or surgery to transition into another gender, as was typical of older generations.
The surveys, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not ask younger teens about non-binary or other gender identities, which have also increased in recent years. But nearly a quarter of adults in surveys who said they were transgender were identified as “gender non-conforming,” meaning they did not identify as transgender men or women.
“We as a culture just need to lean on the fact that there is gender diversity among us,” said Dr. Goepferd. “And that doesn’t mean we need to treat it medically in every case, but it does mean that we as a society need to make room for that.”
The new data was analyzed by researchers at the Williams Institute, a research center at the University of California, Los Angeles, law school that produces highly regarded reports on the demographics, behaviors and political concerns of LGBTQ populations in the United States.
Teenagers made up a disproportionately large portion of the transgender population, the study found. While younger teens were just 7.6% of the total US population, they made up about 18% of transgender people. Likewise, 18-24 year olds represented 11% of the total population but 24% of the transgender population.
Older adults had a disproportionately small share: although 62% of the total population, only 47% of transgender people were aged between 25 and 64. And while 20% of Americans are over 65, this age group represents just 10% of the total number of transgender people nationwide.
The Williams Institute used data from two national sources: the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, administered to adults nationwide, and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered to high schools. The surveys, which were conducted over the phone or in person, collect demographic data as well as a variety of medical and behavioral information such as smoking habits, HIV status, nutrition and exercise.
As of 2017, the high school survey included an optional question asking if the student was transgender. From 2017 to 2020, 15 states included this question in their high school surveys, while 41 states included the adult question at least once in that period.
The Williams Institute used this data, along with statistical modeling of demographic and geographic variables, to arrive at its estimates of the transgender population across the country.
“It’s important to know that trans people live everywhere in the United States and trans people are part of communities across the country,” said Jody Herman, senior public policy scholar at the Williams Institute and lead author. of the report. “We use the best data available, but we need more and better data all the time.”
The US Census Bureau began asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity just last year as part of a new data collection effort. And even national suicide statistics – important in the study of this vulnerable population – lack information on sexuality or gender identity.
“No one knows how many trans, gay or bisexual people died from suicide in the last year,” said Amit Paley, head of The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group that recently released its own report based on social issues. media surveys showing that LGBTQ youth had high rates of mental health problems and suicidal thoughts.
“These data don’t exist because they’re not collected by the government in death records,” Paley said. “It’s something we’re working on trying to change.”
When their previous report was published in 2017, researchers at the Williams Institute did not have actual survey data for younger teens, instead using statistical modeling to extrapolate based on adult data. At the time, they estimated 150,000 transgender teens in the country, or about 0.7% of teens.
With the inclusion of new high school survey data added in 2017, that estimate has now doubled to 300,000.
It’s unclear whether this jump reflects inaccuracies in the previous estimate, a true increase in the number of transgender teens, or both.
“That’s the perplexing question of why all this is happening,” said Dr. Brother.
The racial makeup of transgender adults and transgender teens was roughly the same. About half of both groups were white, slightly less than the relative number of white people in the general population, and a disproportionately large number of each group identified as Latino.
The data also shows the distribution of trans people by state. New York has the highest estimated population of transgender teens at 3%, while Wyoming has the lowest at 0.6%. Transgender adults showed a narrower range, with 0.9% of adults identifying as transgender in North Carolina and 0.2% in Missouri.
The teen numbers were based on surveys collected in 15 states: Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. The researchers then used the survey data to create a model of how individual status and characteristics affect the likelihood of being transgender. Using this model, along with census demographics, they made estimates for the other 35 states and Washington, D.C.
Experts working with transgender teens agreed that certain social factors would unquestionably play a role in their identities, just as they did decades ago, when gays and lesbians were coming out in large numbers for the first time.
“It means a new trust among a new generation to be authentic in their gender identity,” said Phillip Hammack, professor of psychology and director of the Laboratory of Sexual and Gender Diversity at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I think we saw something very similar – maybe we didn’t have the exact numbers to back it up – as we saw more visibility around labeling yourself as gay, lesbian and bisexual in the 1990s.”
Recent Gallup poll data also analyzed by the Williams Institute shows that young adults also make up a disproportionately large part of the total LGBTQ population in the United States, which varies from state to state.
Social media has been a significant catalyst for teens questioning their gender identities today.
“I think a lot of this is definitely the internet,” said Indigo Giles, a 20-year-old college student from Austin who protested the state of Texas’ abuse investigations against parents of transgender children.
Max. Giles said they realized they were non-binary after encountering a community of like-minded people on Tumblr. “People who maybe have had these feelings for a long time but haven’t had the words to put them in can finally see, in such an accessible way, others who feel the same,” they said.
And conversely, it can be much more difficult for older people to explore their gender identities later in life.
Dr. Hammack described one person he interviewed who talked about how hard it was to come out as non-binary in their fifties because “we look around and everyone is so young.” And others who identified as male or male lesbians, he said, told him, “If I was that young, maybe I would have gone down that path, but I wasn’t available.”
Dr. Goepferd of Minnesota Children’s Hospital pointed to another possible reason for the lower proportion of older transgender people: Because of lower access to health care, along with high rates of violence and suicide, transgender people are more likely to die in younger ages. .
“The harsh reality is that we don’t have older transgender people because they didn’t survive,” they said.