Archive for November, 2009

A Totally Gay Math Problem

In the wake of Maine rejecting same-sex marriage, here’s a math problem for you:

Given a 53% to 47% split, and the fact that, statistically speaking, the older you are, the more likely you are to be bigoted*, how long will it take before same-sex marriage remains legal (or, at least, is popularly supported**) in Maine?

You are given the following statistics:

  • Annual birth rate: 1.16% (this varies, but assume that the population grows by this value each year)
  • Annual death rate: 0.93% (source: Maine Vital Statistics)
  • In Maine, the portion of the population that supports gay marriage by age:
    • 18-29: 69%
    • 30-44: 55%
    • 45-64: 47%
    • 65+: 30% (source: Columbia University. You can assume these rates remain constant, even though they are likely to increase as the population ages)
  • Distribution of deaths within the same age groups:
    • 18-29: 2% (extrapolated — data provided only in 5-year ranges)
    • 30-44: 4%
    • 45-64: 19%
    • 65+: 73% (source: CDC; I did the summation myself. These values are for the whole country, and are more recent than the birth and death rates for Maine, but for the purposes of this problem, assume Maine has a similar rate.)

Update: It has been pointed out that I have neglected to provide the current population distribution. Sorry, you’re right! I was trying too hard to make a point, and wasn’t being careful enough to provide sufficient information. I’m a little ashamed. Here:

  • Assume this current population distribution, by age range:
    • 18-29: 21%
    • 30-44: 21%
    • 45-64: 21% (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any source for this that gave finer granularity than “19-64″, so these are a rough estimate at best, but I think they should be good enough for our purposes. Let me know if you find something better.)
    • 65+: 16% (source: statehealthfacts.org)

In which year will more than 50% of Maine’s population support same-sex marriage? Show your work!

*Bigoted, for the purposes of this problem, means “not in support of same-sex marriage”. You may disagree with this definition, but you’d be wrong. Sorry. I realize that much of my own family falls under that umbrella. This seems to indicate that otherwise decent people can still be bigoted.

**Strictly speaking, this sort of thing shouldn’t be determined by a vote anyway. See the Tyranny of the Majority.

Update 2: This post has been making the rounds, and a common theme among comments seems to be that there are many more factors that influence this: changing age distribution due to people retiring to Maine/younger people leaving, increasing conservatism with age, higher voting rates among the elderly, etc. All of this is true, but it doesn’t matter.

The point is not really to predict the exact date when gay marriage will be popularly supported. It’s that the date, whenever it comes, is inevitable. In the meantime, all I can do is remind us all that the times, once again, are changing. As a straight man, it baffles me that so many people feel so threatened by this. I will not change my mind as I grow older, and I believe enough of my contemporaries feel the same way to feel comfortable making this claim.

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