New Studies Show Growing Number of Trans, Nonbinary Youth in US

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Two new studies point to an ever-increasing number of young people in the United States who identify as transgender and nonbinary, with the figures doubling among 18- to 24-year-olds in one institute’s research — from 0.66% of the population in 2016 to 1.3% (398,900) this year.

In addition, 1.4% (300,100) of 13- to 17-year-olds identify as trans or nonbinary, according to the report from that group, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law in Los Angeles.

Williams, which conducts independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, did not contain data on 13- to 17-year-olds in its 2016 study, so the growth in that group over the past 5+ years is not as well documented.

Overall, some 1.6 million Americans older than age 13 now identify as transgender, reported the Williams researchers.

And in a new Pew Research Center survey, 2% of adults aged 18-29 identify as transgender and 3% identify as nonbinary, a far greater number than in other age cohorts.

These reports are likely underestimates. The Human Rights Campaign estimates that some 2 million Americans of all ages identify as transgender.

The Pew survey is weighted to be representative, but still has limitations, said the organization. The Williams analysis, based on responses to two CDC surveys — the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) — is incomplete, say researchers, because not every state collects data on gender identity.

Transgender Identities More Predominant Among Youth

The Williams researchers report that 18.3% of those who identified as trans were 13- to 17-year-olds; that age group makes up 7.6% of the US population 13 and older.

And despite not having firm figures from earlier reports, they comment: “Youth ages 13 to 17 comprise a larger share of the transgender-identified population than we previously estimated, currently comprising about 18% of the transgender-identified population in the US, up from 10% previously.”  

About one quarter of those who identified as trans in the new 2022 report were aged 18-24; that age cohort accounts for 11% of Americans.

The number of older Americans who identify as trans are more proportionate to their representation in the population, according to Williams. Overall, about half of those who said they were trans were aged 25-64; that group accounts for 62% of the overall American population. Some 10% of trans-identified individuals were over age 65. About 20% of Americans are 65 or older, said the researchers.

The Pew research — based on the responses of 10,188 individuals surveyed in May — also found growing numbers of young people who identify as trans. “The share of US adults who are transgender is particularly high among adults younger than 25,” reported Pew in a blog post.

In the 18- to 25-year-old group, 3.1% identified as a trans man or a trans woman, compared with just 0.5% of those ages 25-29.  

That compares to 0.3% of those aged 30-49 and 0.2% of those older than 50.

Racial, and State-by-State Variation

Similar percentages of youth aged 13-17 of all races and ethnicities in the Williams study report they are transgender, ranging from 1% of those who are Asian, to 1.3% of White youth, 1.4% of Black youth, and 1.8% of American Indian or Alaska Native and 1.8% of Latinx youth. The institute reported that 1.5% of biracial and multiracial youth identified as transgender.

The researchers said, however, that “transgender-identified youth and adults appear more likely to report being Latinx and less likely to report being White, as compared to the US population.”

Transgender individuals live in every state, with the greatest percentage of both youth and adults in the Northeast and West, and lesser percentages in the Midwest and South, reported the Williams Institute.

Williams estimates as many as 3% of 13- to 17-year-olds in New York identify as trans, while just 0.6% of that age group in Wyoming is transgender. A total of 2%–2.5% of those aged 13-17 are transgender in Hawaii, New Mexico, Maryland, and Washington, DC.

Among the states with higher percentages of trans-identifying 18- to 24-year-olds: Arizona (1.9%), Arkansas (3.6%), Colorado (2%), Delaware (2.4%), Illinois (1.9%), Maryland (1.9%), North Carolina (2.5%), Oklahoma (2.5%), Massachusetts (2.3%), Rhode Island (2.1%), and Washington (2%).

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including JAMA and Smithsonian.com. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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