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Educational participation and attainment of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Canada

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Release date: February 1, 2022

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Research shows that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals experience various barriers and stigmatization in Canadian society. Recent Statistics Canada publications on the LGB population have focused on student victimization (see text box on discrimination experienced by LGB students below), as well as unwanted sexual behaviours and victimization more broadly.Note  However, less is known about the wider educational experiences and outcomes for this population. Education is an important social determinant, and low educational attainment could have an impact on outcomes related to employment, income, health and well-being.

This article provides a statistical profile of the educational participation and attainment of the LGB population in Canada, compared with the heterosexual population. It is part of a series on LGB people in Canada, drawing on data from pooled cycles of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS, 2015 to 2016 and 2017 to 2018), that includes “Family and household characteristics of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Canada” and a data table on socioeconomic characteristics. Labour market outcomes and earnings are closely related to educational attainment and will be explored in a forthcoming article in this series.

Youth were twice as likely as adults aged 25 to 64 to report being LGB

Youth is a pivotal life stage for laying the academic foundation for later success in terms of employment, income and life satisfaction. According to data averaged over the 2015-to-2018 period, an estimated 3.2%Note  of the Canadian population aged 15 and older were LGB. This percentage was significantly higher among younger people, with 6.4% of youth aged 15 to 24 indicating they were LGB—twice the proportion among adults aged 25 to 64 (3.0%). It is possible that developments in recent years, such the greater visibility and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity in policy, legislation and popular culture are factors influencing youth, making them more open than older generations to reporting a non-heterosexual orientation.

LGB youth were more likely to be women than men,Note  driven by a larger proportion of young bisexual women. Among youth aged 15 to 24, 6.9% of young women and 2.3% of young men were bisexual, while 1.7% of young women were lesbian or gay and 2.1% of young men were gay.

Heterosexual women were more likely than heterosexual men to be students, while LGB men and women were equally likely to be enrolled in studies

Among the population aged 18 to 29, the school attendance rate was similar between the gay or lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual populations, averaged over the 2015-to-2018 period.Note  In other words, gay or lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual young adults were equally likely to attend school. Furthermore, there was no difference in school attendance among LGB men and women.Note  By comparison, there was a difference for the heterosexual population: a larger share of women than men aged 18 to 29 attended school (39.0% versus 33.5%).

There were an estimated 215,300 LGB people aged 15 and older attending school at all levels of study in the 2015-to-2018 period.Note  A larger percentage of the LGB student population was bisexual than gay or lesbian, across all age groups. Of the student population aged 18 to 29, 6.6% were LGB: 4.4% were bisexual and 2.3% were gay or lesbian.Note  Note   

Bisexual youth aged 18 to 29 were more likely to be not in employment, education or training than heterosexual or gay and lesbian youth

The number of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) is an indicator that is followed closely by governments and reported on regularly by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The reduction of youth NEET rates is one of the indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 8,Note  pertaining to decent work and economic growth. Previous research suggests that youth NEET may be at risk for long-term economic and social difficulties.Note  Over time, youth NEET may become discouraged, disengaged and socially excluded, and may gradually lose skills from lack of use, making it more challenging to enter the labour market.  

According to CCHS data from 2015 to 2018 from the provinces and territories, 10.8% of youth aged 18 to 29 were identified as NEET, across all sexual orientation groups.Note  The highest share of youth NEET aged 18 to 29 was found among the bisexual population (14.7%), a statistically significant difference from heterosexual (9.9%) and gay and lesbian youth (5.3%E) (Table 1).Note 


Table 1
Youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) by sexual orientation, population aged 18 to 29, 2015 to 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Youth not in employment. The information is grouped by Sexual orientation (appearing as row headers), Percent and 95% confidence intervals (appearing as column headers).
Sexual orientation Percent 95% confidence intervals
Lower Upper
HeterosexualTable 1 Note  9.9 9.2 10.7
Lesbian or gay 5.3Note E: Use with caution 2.9 9.3
Bisexual 14.7Note * 11.5 18.8
Start of text box
One in 10 LGB+ postsecondary students reported experiencing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation

The 2019 Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population gathered data on discrimination based on sexual orientation among students aged 18 to 24 at postsecondary institutionsNote  in the Canadian provinces (students living in Quebec were aged 17 to 24).Note  One in 10 (10.8%) LGB+ students (i.e., lesbian; gay; bisexual; or reporting a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, such as pansexual or asexual) reported experiencing discrimination based on sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation in the postsecondary setting in the past 12 months, compared with 1.2% of heterosexual students. Specifically, these experiences were reported by 16.3% of gay and lesbian students and 9.1% of bisexual students (Chart 1). Differences between men and womenNote  (among both LGB+ and heterosexual students) were not found to be statistically significant.

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Sexual orientation (appearing as row headers), Percent and 95% confidence intervals, calculated using Lower and Upper units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sexual orientation Percent 95% confidence intervals
Lower Upper
HeterosexualData table for Chart 1 Note  1.2 1.0 1.4
LGB+Data table for Chart 1 Note 1 10.8Note * 9.0 12.8
Lesbian or gay 16.3Note * 12.2 21.4
Bisexual 9.1Note * 7.3 11.4
End of text box

Gay men were more likely than heterosexual men and women to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, while a similar share of women held this qualification, regardless of sexual orientation

Despite experiences of discrimination being more prevalent among LGB+ students than heterosexual students (see box above), over three-quarters (77.4%) of the gay and lesbian population aged 25 to 64 held a postsecondary qualificationNote  — a significantly greater share than seen in the heterosexual (72.0%) and bisexual (68.1%) populations.

Four in 10 gay and lesbian people (41.2%) held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with one-third of bisexual (34.2%) and heterosexual (32.6%) individuals (Chart 2). Gay men had high educational attainment at both the bachelor and graduate levels;Note  however, differences between gay men and lesbian or gay women were not statistically significant. Gay men were more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher (43.2%) than heterosexual men (30.3%), bisexual women (33.5%) and heterosexual women (34.9%) (Table 2).

A larger proportion of heterosexual women than heterosexual men aged 25 to 64 held a college or university qualification as their highest level of education. However, differences in college and university completion between women of different sexual orientations were not statistically significant.

Despite the similarities among women, a segment of the population of bisexual women had lower educational attainment. Compared with heterosexual women aged 25 to 64 (25.9%), bisexual women were more likely (32.3%) to hold a secondary school diploma as their highest level of education, or not to have completed secondary school (Table 2).

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Sexual orientation (appearing as row headers), Highest level of education, Percent and 95% confidence intervals, calculated using Lower and Upper units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sexual orientation Highest level of education Percent 95% confidence intervals
Lower Upper
HeterosexualData table for Chart 2 Note  Secondary school or less 28.0 27.6 28.4
Trade certificate or diploma 9.9 9.7 10.2
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 29.4 29.0 29.9
Bachelor's degree and above 32.6 32.1 33.2
Lesbian or gay Secondary school or less 22.6Note * 19.5 26.0
Trade certificate or diploma 7.6Note * 6.1 9.4
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 28.6 25.2 32.4
Bachelor's degree and above 41.2Note * 37.5 45.0
Bisexual Secondary school or less 31.9 28.4 35.7
Trade certificate or diploma 7.9Note E: Use with caution 5.9 10.5
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 26.0 22.8 29.5
Bachelor's degree and above 34.2 30.2 38.5

Table 2
Highest level of education by sexual orientation and sex, population aged 25 to 64, 2015 to 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Highest level of education by sexual orientation and sex. The information is grouped by Sexual orientation (appearing as row headers), Highest level of education, Sex, Male, Female, Percent and 95% confidence intervals (appearing as column headers).
Sexual orientation Highest level of education Sex
Male Female
Percent 95% confidence intervals Percent 95% confidence intervals
Lower Upper Lower Upper
HeterosexualTable 2 Note  Secondary school or less 30.2 29.6 30.8 25.9Note ** 25.3 26.4
Trade certificate or diploma 13.7 13.3 14.1 6.2Note ** 5.9 6.5
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 25.8 25.1 26.5 33.0Note ** 32.4 33.6
Bachelor's degree and above 30.3 29.6 31.0 34.9Note ** 34.3 35.6
Lesbian or gay Secondary school or less 21.9Note * 17.9 26.5 23.8 19.4 28.9
Trade certificate or diploma 7.5Note * 5.6 9.9 7.7Note E: Use with caution 5.6 10.7
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 27.5 23.0 32.4 30.8 26.0 35.9
Bachelor's degree and above 43.2Note * 38.4 48.0 37.7 32.5 43.1
Bisexual Secondary school or less 31.1 25.1 37.9 32.3Note * 27.9 37.1
Trade certificate or diploma 11.7Note E: Use with caution 6.8 19.4 6.0 4.6 7.9
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 21.5 16.7 27.2 28.2 24.2 32.5
Bachelor's degree and above 35.7 27.6 44.7 33.5 29.1 38.3

Heterosexual men were more likely than women of all sexual orientations and gay men to hold a trade qualification as their highest level of education

The skilled trades play an important role in the Canadian economy and society. To address a shortage of tradespeople exacerbated by an aging workforce, initiatives have been developed to attract a more diverse workforce, including women, who remain underrepresented in the skilled trades. In the 2015-to-2018 period, heterosexual men aged 25 to 64 were most likely to have obtained a trade qualification as their highest level of education (13.7%), compared with gay men (7.5%), heterosexual women (6.2%), gay or lesbian women (7.7%E) and bisexual women (6.0%) (Table 2). Although bisexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to hold a trade qualification as their highest level of education, differences between bisexual men and all other groups were not statistically significant. Complementary data on the occupational profiles of the LGB population, including representation in trades occupations, will be available in the next article in this series.

Educational attainment of lesbian, gay and bisexual older adults

Reflecting the general expansion of access to education over the past 50 years, the level of education was generally higher among the population aged 25 to 64 than among older adults (aged 65 and older) across sexual orientation groups. However, a similar educational attainment pattern was seen between sexual orientation groups for older adults and their younger counterparts. Gay and lesbian older adults were more likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher (33.0%) than the heterosexual population (21.1%) (Table 3). This was driven by the relatively higher educational attainment among gay men.

While a similar share of bisexual (23.1%E) and heterosexual (21.1%) older adults had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, educational attainment was generally lower for the bisexual population aged 65 and older. Further disaggregation of the category of secondary school diploma or less showed that 4 in 10 bisexual older adults (39.8%) did not hold a high school diploma—a significantly higher share than among their heterosexual (24.2%) and gay and lesbian (13.9%E) counterparts.

Differences in educational attainment between men and women were also evident within the population aged 65 and older, with an overall tendency for men to have completed higher levels of formal education than women.


Table 3
Highest level of education by sexual orientation, population aged 65 and older, 2015 to 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Highest level of education by sexual orientation. The information is grouped by Sexual orientation (appearing as row headers), Highest level of education, Percent and 95% confidence intervals (appearing as column headers).
Sexual orientation Highest level of education Percent 95% confidence intervals
Lower Upper
HeterosexualTable 3 Note  Secondary school or less 47.1 46.4 47.8
Trade certificate or diploma 10.3 9.9 10.7
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 21.5 21.0 22.1
Bachelor's degree and above 21.1 20.5 21.7
Lesbian or gay Secondary school or less 39.9 33.2 47.1
Trade certificate or diploma 8.7Note E: Use with caution 5.9 12.7
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 18.3Note E: Use with caution 13.3 24.7
Bachelor's degree and above 33.0Note * 26.8 39.9
Bisexual Secondary school or less 52.8 43.0 62.3
Trade certificate or diploma 13.4Note E: Use with caution 7.1 23.7
College/CEGEP/University qualification below bachelor’s 10.7Note E: Use with caution Note * 7.4 15.4
Bachelor's degree and above 23.1Note E: Use with caution 16.2 31.9

Note to readers

The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) is a cross-sectional survey that collects information related to health status, health care utilization and health determinants for the Canadian population. With a sample of 130,000 respondents every two years, it is a well-suited data source for research on smaller populations such as lesbian, gay and bisexual people living in Canada.

The CCHS covers the population aged 12 years and older living in all provinces and territories. Excluded from the sampling frame are individuals living in First Nation communities (on reserve), institutional residents (health institutions, prisons, religious institutions, convents, etc.), full-time members of the Canadian Forces, youth aged 12 to 17 living in foster homes, and residents of certain remote regions. The CCHS covers approximately 98% of the Canadian population aged 12 and older.

This article presents pooled data from the 2015-to-2016 and 2017-to-2018 cycles. The weights of the two two-year cycles were divided by two to represent the total average population over the four years. Over the period of 2015 to 2018, the CCHS collected data on sex of respondent (male or female) as recorded by the interviewer. In 2019 and subsequent cycles, both respondent self-reported sex at birth and gender identity were collected. The CCHS sexual orientation variable contained three response category options: heterosexual (sexual relations with people of the opposite sex); homosexual, that is, lesbian or gay (sexual relations with people of your own sex); and bisexual (sexual relations with people of both sexes). In 2019 and subsequent cycles of the CCHS, the definitional text is omitted from these categories, and an additional response category is included for respondents to specify a sexual orientation beyond these three. Because of this change in reporting methodology and impacts on comparability for sexual orientation data, 2019 CCHS data were not included.

For additional information about CCHS data quality and methodology.

The goal of the Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population (SISPSP), referenced in the article, was to obtain an accurate picture of the nature, extent and impact of inappropriate sexual and discriminatory behaviours that occur in a school-related setting.

For additional information about SISPSP data quality and methodology.  

This study was funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE).

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