About 1.6 million people in the United States are transgender, and 43 percent of them are young adults or adolescents, according to a new report that provides the latest national estimates for 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 0.5 percent of all adults.
These figures show a significant increase in young people: estimates from 13 to 25 transgender people have almost doubled since the researchers’ previous report published in 2017, although the reports used different methods.
Data points to a whole generation of change. Young people increasingly have language and social acceptance to explore their gender identity, experts say, where older adults may feel more limited. But the numbers, which vary widely from state to state, also raise questions about potential cultural drivers, such as the role of peer influence or the political climate of the community.
“It is developmentally appropriate for teens to explore all aspects of their identities – that’s what teens do,” said Dr. Angela Goepford, medical director of the Gender Health Program at Children’s Hospital Minnesota, who was not involved in the new analysis. “And, generationally, gender has become a part of someone’s identity that is more socially acceptable to explore.”
Dr. Goepford, who is a non-binary, noted that many adolescents would not necessarily want or need drugs or surgery to convert to another sex, as was common in the older generation.
Surveys conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have not asked young adolescents about non-binary or other gender identities, which has also increased in recent years. But about one-fourth of adults in the survey who said they were identified as a transgender were “gender non-conforming,” meaning they did not identify as a transgender man or woman.
“As a culture we just have to lean towards the fact that we have gender diversity,” says Dr. Goepford. “And that doesn’t mean we have to treat it medically in all cases, but it does mean that we as a society have to make room for it.”
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 respected reports on the population, behavior and policy concerns of the LGBTQ population in the United States.
Adolescents make up an unequal portion of the transgender population, the study found. Adolescents make up only 7.6 percent of the total population of the United States, accounting for about 18 percent of transgender people. Similarly, 18 to 24 year olds constitute 11 percent of the total population but 24 percent of the transgender population.
There was an disproportionately small proportion of older adults: although 62 percent of the total population, only 47 percent of transgender people were between the ages of 25 and 64. And while 20 percent of Americans are over 65, that’s only 10 percent of the total age group. Transgender people across the country.
The Williams Institute used data from two national sources: the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which operates for adults across the country, and its Youth Risk Behavior Survey, provided in high school. The surveys, which were conducted either over the phone or in person, collected data on the population as well as various medical and behavioral information such as smoking habits, HIV status, nutrition and exercise.
Beginning in 2017, the high school survey included an optional question whether the student was transgender. From 2017 to 2020, 15 states included this question in their high school survey, while 41 states included the question for adults at least once in that period.
The Williams Institute has used this data along with statistical modeling of demographic and geographic variables to reach its estimates of transgender populations across the country.
“It’s important to know that trans people live throughout the United States and that trans people are part of the community throughout the country,” said Jody Herman, a senior scholar and lead author of public policy at the Williams Institute. “We use the best available data, but we always need more and better data,” the report said.
The U.S. Census Bureau began asking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity last year as part of a new data collection effort. Even national suicide statistics – important for the study of this vulnerable population – have no information about sexuality or gender identity.
“No one knows how many trans people or how many gay or bisexual people died in suicide last year,” said Amit Pale, head of The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention group that recently released its own report on social media. Media polls show that young LGBTQ people have higher rates of mental health problems and suicidal thoughts.
“That information does not exist because the government does not collect death records,” Mr Paley said. “It’s something we’re trying to change.”
When their previous report was published in 2017, researchers at the Williams Institute did not have actual survey data for adolescents, but instead extrapolated based on adult data using statistical modeling. At the time, they estimated that there were 150,000 transgender teenagers in the country, or about 0.7 percent.
With the inclusion of new high school survey data added in 2017, that estimate has now doubled to 300,000.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
“This is the wonderful question of why all this is happening,” said Dr. Herman.
The ethnic makeup of transgender adults and transgender teenagers was pretty much the same. About half of both groups were white, slightly less than the relative number of whites in the general population, and each group was identified as an disproportionate number of Latino.
Data show the distribution of trans people by state. New York has the highest estimated population of transgender teenagers, at 3 percent, while Wyoming has the lowest, 0.6 percent. Shows a narrow range of transgender adults, with 0.9 percent of adults identified as transgender in North Carolina and 0.2 percent in Missouri.
The number of adolescents was based on surveys collected in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. The researchers then used the data from that survey to create a model of how state and individual characteristics affect the likelihood of transgenderism. Using that model, they included estimates for 35 other states and Washington, D.C., including census population data.
Experts who work with transgender adolescents agree that certain social factors will undoubtedly 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 signals a new confidence in a new generation to be authentic to their gender identity,” said Santa Cruz, a professor of psychology and director of the Sex and Gender Diversity Lab at the University of California. “I think we saw something very similar – we didn’t have the exact numbers to back it up – because we saw more visibility around labeling ourselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual in the nineties.”
Recent Gallup polling data analyzed by the Williams Institute also shows that young adults also make up an disproportionately large portion of the total LGBTQ population in the United States, which varies by state.
Social media today has been a significant catalyst for teens questioning their gender identity.
“I think a big part of it, of course, is the Internet,” said Indigo Giles, a 20-year-old college student in Austin who protested against the Texas state’s investigation into the abuse of transgender parents.
Mx Giles said that after finding a community of like-minded people in Tumblr, they realized they were binary. “People who may have been feeling these feelings for a long time, but have no words to say, are finally seeing, in an readily available way, others who feel the same way,” they said.
And conversely, it can be much more difficult for older people to explore their gender identity in later life.
Dr. Hammack describes a man he interviewed who talked about how difficult it was to get out as a nonbinary in their fifties because “we look around, and everyone is so young.” And others who identified him as male or butch lesbian, he said, told her, “If I were so young, I would probably go that route, but it wasn’t available.”
Children’s Hospital Minnesota Dr. Goepford points out another possible reason for the small proportion of older transgender people: Due to low access to healthcare, transgender people are more likely to die at a young age, with high rates of violence and suicide. .
“The harsh reality is that we don’t have trans elders because they didn’t survive,” they said.