Coming Out Younger… or are we?

The average coming out age has fallen by over 20 years in Britain, according to Stonewall.  Their recent online poll, which had 1,536 respondents, found that lesbian, gay and bisexual people aged 60 and over came out at 37 on average. People aged 18 and under are coming out at 15 on average.

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s Deputy Director of Public Affairs, said: ‘People are coming out younger and younger.  Everyone should come out when they feel ready and confident but this is an encouraging trend and sends a positive message to anyone not yet out: you don’t have to wait.  Britain is a fairer country than it once was, and support is available to you.’

We suspect most readers would concur with that sentiment.

But is the average age for coming out really dropping by something along the lines of 6 months with every passing year?

“Bad Science” writer Ben Goldacre challenged the Stonewall line on the poll in a Guardian article. He pointed out that people who are out and aged 18 and under are bound to have come out at an average age under 18; those in their 60s may not have come out until much later in life. The under 18 population as a whole is likely to contain people who have not yet come out, who will do later on – but they are hidden from this data set, because the research only asked people who are already open about their sexuality.
It seems likely given wider social change that the average age at which people come out has fallen: perhaps not by the 20 years that Stonewall’s interpretation of the figures suggests. This might be shown if the data gathered were reinterpreted into a year by year “average coming out age”. So if someone who is 42 says they came out 2 years ago in the survey, they would count as a “40” in the data for 2008.

Hopefully, Stonewall will whizz the figures around in their spreadsheet and give the world the timeline of how the average age of coming out has – or has not – dropped over time.