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Professor Michael Steinberger's Research Cited in Landmark Proposition 8 Ruling

Assistant Professor of Economics Michael Steinberger

Assistant Professor of Economics Michael Steinberger

Research by Assistant Professor of Economics Michael Steinberger was cited in the August 4 decision by U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker to overturn Proposition 8 in California as unconstitutional.

The controversial case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, is the second to reach the courts in the wake of Proposition 8 passing by 52 percent in November 2008, which added the statement "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” to the California Constitution. The first case, Strauss v. Horton, upheld Prop 8.

In Perry v. Schwarzanegger, however, Judge Walker found that "The evidence shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal.”

In section 66 of the decision, on pages 92 and 93 of the 136-page opinion, a case is made for the increase of costs and decrease of wealth for same-sex couples who cannot access the typical rights and benefits of marriage. In this section, Steinberger’s research “Federal Estate Tax Disadvantages for Same-Sex Couples,” published in July 2009, is cited:

"Using data from several government data sources, this report estimates the dollar value of the estate tax disadvantages faced by same-sex couples. In 2009, the differential treatment of same-sex and married couples in the estate tax code will affect an estimated 73 same-sex couples, costing each of them, on average $3.3 million."

Steinberger conducted his research with the UCLA Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, a non-partisan, non-advocacy think tank. Steinberger has been a public policy fellow with the institute for two years. His research on the business boost that five years of same-sex marriage has provided to Massachusetts was cited by news outlets, including Newsweek, last year.

“My research typically deals with disadvantaged groups, including the gender wage gap, racial disparities, college/high school wage gap, and income inequality and the poor,” says Steinberger, who has been with Pomona College since 2004 and won a Pomona College Wig Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2008.

“My work, in the jargon of economics is positive, not normative. I see my role as getting the facts on the table, which then help policy makers make informed decisions on the truth and not on their preconceived perceptions.”

Steinberger notes that research from the Williams Institute was actually used on both sides of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial. “The original estimate for the number of same-sex couples that were married when it was legal in California came from our office, and I assisted in the extrapolation of that number.”

Steinberger has also researched the causes of wage and hour differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals in the United States with Professor of Economics Heather Antecol at Claremont McKenna College.

Another research project with Dr. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute led to a correction in the way the U.S. Census Bureau processes its data in the U.S. Census and American Community Survey.

“Census data processing procedures had the unintended consequence of allocating a large number of different-sex married couples into being identified as same-sex partners,” says Steinberger. “Because of the work of Dr. Gates and myself, the Census changed their data processing procedures to help address the problem.  More significantly, the Census has given us a grant to work with the non-public, unaltered Census to continue our work and to refine our findings and suggestions.” The grant, which is worth several thousands of dollars, helps the professors continue their work at the UCLA Regional Census Data Center.

Please visit Steinberger’s website for more information on his research and links to his papers.