Institutions, Attitudes and Lgbt: Evidence from the Gold Rush

74 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2018

See all articles by Abel Brodeur

Abel Brodeur

IZA Institute of Labor Economics; University of Ottawa - Department of Economics

Joanne Haddad

University of Ottawa


This paper analyzes the determinants behind the spatial distribution of the LGBT population in the U.S. We relate the size of the present-day LGBT population to the discovery of gold mines during the 19th century gold rushes. Comparing the surroundings of these gold mines to other current and former mining counties, we find that there are currently 10-15% more same-sex couples in counties in which gold discoveries were made during the gold rushes. We also provide empirical evidence that residents of gold rush counties still have more favorable attitudes toward homosexuality nowadays. Our findings are consistent with two mechanisms. First, gold rushes led to a large (temporary) increase in the male-to-female ratio. Second, we show that gold rush counties were less likely to house a notable place of worship at the time of the discovery (and in the following decades) and are currently less religious, suggesting a role of institutions in shaping attitudes and norms.

Keywords: persistence, LGBT, attitudes, religion

JEL Classification: O13, O18, J10, R23

Suggested Citation

Brodeur, Abel and Brodeur, Abel and Haddad, Joanne, Institutions, Attitudes and Lgbt: Evidence from the Gold Rush. IZA Discussion Paper No. 11957, Available at SSRN: or

Abel Brodeur (Contact Author)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

University of Ottawa - Department of Economics ( email )

200 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5

HOME PAGE: http://

Joanne Haddad

University of Ottawa

2292 Edwin Crescent
Ottawa, K2C 1H7

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