About 1.6 million people in the United States are transgender, and 43 percent of them are young adults or teenagers, according to a new report featuring the most recent national estimates of this population.
The analysis, based on government health surveys conducted from 2017 to 2020, estimated that 1.4 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds and 1.3 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were transgender, compared to about 0.1%. 5 percent of all adults .
Those numbers showed a significant increase among young people: The estimate of transgender people 13 to 25 has nearly doubled since the researchers’ previous report, published in 2017, although the reports used different methods.
The data points to a strong generational shift. Young people increasingly have the language and social acceptance to explore their gender identity, experts said, while older adults may feel more limited. But the numbers, which vary widely from state to state, also raise questions about 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,” says Dr. Angela Goepferd, medical director of the Gender Health Program at Children’s Minnesota Hospital, who was not involved in the new analysis. “And for generations, gender has become a part of one’s identity that is more socially acceptable to explore.”
dr. Goepferd, who is non-binary, noted that many teens wouldn’t necessarily want or need drugs or surgery to switch genders, as was typical for older generations.
The surveys, prepared 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 the surveys who said they were transgender identified as “gender non-conforming,” meaning they didn’t identify as a transgender man or woman.
“We as a culture just have to accept that there is gender diversity among us,” said Dr. goupferd. “And that does not mean that we have to treat it medically in all cases, but that we as a society have to make room for it.”
The new data was analyzed by researchers at the Williams Institute, a research center at the law school at the University of California, Los Angeles, which produces highly regarded reports on the demographics, behavior and policy issues of LGBTQ populations in the United States.
Teens made up a disproportionate share of the transgender population, the study found. While younger teens made up just 7.6 percent of the total U.S. population, they accounted for about 18 percent of transgender people. Similarly, 18- to 24-year-olds made up 11 percent of the total population but 24 percent of the transgender population.
Older adults had a disproportionately small share: Although 62 percent of the total population, only 47 percent of transgender people were 25 to 64 years old. And while 20 percent of Americans are over 65, that age group makes up just 10 percent of the total number of transgender people. transgender people across the country.
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, delivered in high schools. The surveys, conducted by phone or in person, collect data on demographics and a variety of medical and behavioral information, such as smoking habits, HIV status, diet and exercise.
As of 2017, the high school survey included an optional question of whether the student was transgender. From 2017 to 2020, 15 states included this question in their high school surveys, while 41 states took the adult question at least once during that period.
The Williams Institute used this data, along with statistical modeling of demographic and geographic variables, to arrive at estimates of the transgender population across the country.
“It’s important to know that transgender people live all over the United States and that transgender people are part of communities across the country,” said Jody Herman, senior public policy scientist at the Williams Institute and lead author. of the report. “We use the best available data, but we need more and better data.”
The US Census Bureau only started asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity last year, as part of a new data collection effort. And even national suicide statistics — important in the study of this vulnerable population — contain no information about sexuality or gender identity.
“No one knows how many transgender people or how many gays or bisexuals have died by suicide in the past year,” said Amit Paley, head of The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group that recently released its own social media report. media surveys, which showed that young LGBTQ people had a lot of mental health problems and suicidal thoughts.
“That data doesn’t exist because it’s not collected by the government on death certificates,” Paley said. “It’s something we’re working on to try to change.”
When their previous report was published in 2017, the Williams Institute researchers didn’t have actual research data for younger teens, but instead used statistical models to extrapolate from adult data. At the time, they estimated 150,000 transgender teens in the country, or about 0.7 percent of teens.
With the inclusion of the new high school survey data added in 2017, that estimate has now doubled to 300,000.
It’s not clear whether that jump reflects inaccuracies in the previous estimate, a true increase in the number of transgender adolescents, or both.
“That’s the baffling question of why all this is happening,” said Dr. Hermann.
The racial makeup of transgender adults and transgender teens was about the same. About half of both groups were white, slightly less than the relative number of whites in the general population, and a disproportionate number of each group identified as Latino.
The data also shows the distribution of transgender people by state. New York has the largest estimated population of transgender teens, at 3 percent, while Wyoming has the lowest, at 0.6 percent. Transgender adults showed a smaller range, with 0.9 percent of adults identifying as transgender in North Carolina and 0.2 percent in Missouri.
The adolescent 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 that study data to create a model of how state and individual characteristics affect the likelihood of being transgender. Using that model, along with demographics from the census, they made estimates for the other 35 states and Washington, D.C.
Experts working with transgender teens agreed that certain social factors would undeniably play a role in their identities, just as they did decades ago when gays and lesbians first came out in large numbers.
“It means a new confidence in a new generation to be authentic in their gender identity,” said Phillip Hammack, a psychology professor and director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I think we saw something similar — we may not have had the exact numbers to back it up — because in the 1990s we saw more visibility around labeling yourself as gay, lesbian, bisexual.”
Recent Gallup poll data also analyzed by the Williams Institute shows that young adults also make up a disproportionate share of the total LGBTQ population in the United States, which varies from state to state.
Social media today is a major catalyst for teens questioning their gender identity.
“I think a big part of it is definitely the internet,” said Indigo Giles, a 20-year-old Austin college student who has protested the state of Texas’s investigations into parental abuse of transgender children.
mx. Giles said they realized they were non-binary after finding a community of like-minded people on Tumblr. “People who may have had these feelings for a long time, but have no words for them, can finally see others who feel the same way in such an easily accessible way,” they said.
And conversely, it can be much more difficult for older people to discover their gender identity later in life.
dr. Hammack described one person he interviewed who said how difficult it was to come out in their 50s because “we look around and everyone is so young”. And others who identified as male or butch lesbians, he said, have told him, “If I were that young I might have gone down that road, but it wasn’t available.”
dr. Goepferd of the Children’s Hospital Minnesota pointed to another possible reason for the smaller proportion of older transgender people: Due to lower access to health care, along with the high rate of violence and suicide, transgender people are more likely to die at a younger age. †
“The harsh reality is that we don’t have trans elders because they didn’t survive,” they said.