What are Gender Survey Questions?

Gender survey questions is a questionnaire that is asked to a respondent to understand, what is the gender of the respondent. Through analysis of the survey responses and considering gender as a parameter, it will enable a researcher to evaluate how gender plays a role on the choices that the respondent makes and help him to deduce a pattern. Gender survey questions are used in various types of research such as business, social science research, etc. Gender survey questions are one of the various types of survey questions, which are most commonly asked in surveys.

Previously, only male and female options used to appear in such questions, however with so many policies coming in to place and with people accepting their genders freely, there are many more options. Gender survey questions are sensitive in nature, however, these can enable the researcher to analyze their data more accurately in their questionnaires. With the growing importance for gender equality, it is important how to phrase these questions in a such a way, that they do not offend any respondents and also provide a sense of inclusiveness to all gender categories.

Why is there a need for more than two gender options in a questionnaire?

Today’s social science research, public issues regarding gender discrimination, the rising consciousness in gender equality and the movements around the world elucidate that giving two options or categorizing humans in two categories is outdated and ethically wrong. Furthermore, considering the purpose of the survey, the analyses can be much more accurate if the demographic data can be segmented in more than two categories.

For example, A cosmetic brand wants to conduct a survey to gather feedback about one of their products to help them market their product appropriately, depending on the audience. The feedback received from a male will be different than that of a female. Furthermore, other categories such as transgender will also have a different opinion about the product and are also a considerable target audience for the cosmetic brand. Hence, a survey including gender question having multiple choice options, will give the company much more accurate data and make it easier to segment their audience and carry out appropriate marketing strategies based on the gender of the respondents.

Transgender is an important category now!

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of transgenders and they accommodate a significant portion of the population now. According to a 2016 study conducted in the United States, it was observed that 0.6% of all adults or about 1.4 million people identify as transgender. So, on average, it is wise to expect that if a survey is sent to 500 participants, there will be at least 3 transgenders among them. Also, some states in the US have a higher density of transgender than 0.6%.

Furthermore, it has also been proven, that transgender is not a trait that you get once you are an adult, but it is a deeply held identity right from childhood. Hence, addressing transgender in gender survey questions is vital to get accurate demographic information without offending the respondents and also showcases non-discrimination.

Furthermore, there are multiple gender categories that are evolving, and hence we can see many survey designers trying to implement these in their surveys. With so many options these days, it has become difficult for researchers to understand the need to collect valuable data and balance it out with an appropriate number of gender choices. Although, while wording the question, a researcher has to make sure to not offend the respondent and be respectful as well.

Following is an example of the number of choices that can be given in a gender choice question:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Boy
  • Girl
  • Tomboy
  • Young man
  • Young woman
  • Trans-girl
  • Trans-boy
  • Agender (no gender identity)
  • Androgynous (not one specific sex)
  • Gender fluid (different genders at different times)
  • Bigender (two gender identities)
  • Demi girl (partly girl)
  • Demiboy (partly boy)
  • Non-binary (not male or female)
  • Genderqueer (non-traditional gender distinction)
  • Trigender (shifts in three genders)
  • Intersex (physical, hormonal or genetic features of male and female)
  • Not Sure
  • Rather not say
  • Other (please specify)

Considering the long list of genders that are accepted in today’s world, it is difficult to understand which of these have to be included and which are not. Although inclusivity of all options is vital, it is certain, that you cannot use the entire list, as surveys cannot be monotonous or exhaustive and should not take much time for the respondent.

Moreover, you have a legal obligation to collect only the information that is needed. With data collection compliances (GDPR) coming in to place, there will be tighter regulations to handle personal sensitive information. Basically, to understand when, how and why to use gender questions for a questionnaire, you need to ask the following questions to yourself before designing a survey.

  • Is there a need to ask the question at all?
  • Should I ask about sex, gender or sexual orientation?
  • How do I word my question?
  • Does asking the question provide any business value?

One of the major confusion that a lot of people face, is to understand the distinction between Sex, Gender, and sexual orientation. A researcher has to make sure the three questions are addressed separately. The distinction between these three points is as follows:

Sex – This refers to the anatomical characteristic of a person. When asking these questions, options such as Male, Female and Intersex should be used.

Gender – This refers to what the person feels he is in a psychological sense, regardless of what sex a person was assigned at birth.

Sexual orientation – This refers to emotional, physical and sexual attraction to other people and does not fall under the gender questions category but is affiliated with it. When asking about sexual orientation, words like gay/lesbian, bisexual/pansexual, and heterosexual can be used. Please note, it is advised to not use homosexual as it is frowned upon by most people.

Best practices for asking gender questions in a questionnaire

There are a lot of ways a question can be worded to suit specific needs. There are a couple of approaches that can be used to ask gender identity questions in a survey.

1st Approach

If you find there is a need to ask a gender question, the following can be used.

  1. What is your gender?
    1. Male
    2. Female
    3. Others (Please specify)
    4. Rather not say
  2. Are you transgender?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Other (Please specify)
    4. Rather not say
  3. If you are transgender, what was your assigned gender status at birth?
    1. Male
    2. Female
    3. Not applicable
    4. Others (Please specify)
    5. Rather not say

Using this approach enables a researcher to include transgender categories and also gives enough importance to mention any other gender identity. Moreover, using a multi-step approach is much faster to complete for a respondent than using a single step approach. Furthermore, adding ‘rather not say’ gives the respondent a feeling of this being voluntary and not a forced question, which can give a good response rate for the survey.

2nd Approach

If needed, an open-ended question can be asked.

  1. Gender?_____________

You may need to carry out text analysis for such a question, however, it is an all-inclusive question and will allow the respondent to choose their own identity.

Apart from the decision to choose the approach, there are a few points that a researcher should not forget while using gender survey questions in a questionnaire. Following points will help you create a good survey design.

  • Make sure you can justify why you are asking the question.
  • Take into account the privacy and comfort of your respondent over anything else.
  • Maintain data security.
  • Maintain anonymity of personal data.
  • Try and include open-ended questions to give enough freedom to explain who they are.
  • All gender questions are optional.

Importance of Gender survey questions in a questionnaire

A good survey design means it is going to accomplish two things namely accuracy and inclusiveness. A questionnaire has to be designed in a manner, that it can collect accurate data using the best practices for survey designs as well as be inclusive at the same time. The objective of the questionnaire should be to make the respondent feel that their opinion matters and will be valued as much as any other respondent, without any biases.

The old method where gender questions provided only two options namely male and female suggests, that everyone falls under only these two categories which are against the two things mentioned above. It suggests discrimination against transgender and non-conforming respondents and many times the results achieved will not be accurate as there was no option given to the respondent. However, using a five-category question or a multi-step approach for gender data that allows the respondent to choose from various categories and also has the freedom to write an open-ended response. Such an option provides the researcher with much more accurate data as well as makes the respondent feel valued and respected. Furthermore, it will also increase the response rate for the questionnaire, because the respondent does not feel, he is forced to answer certain questions, especially if they are private in nature.

While conducting a survey, it doesn’t hurt to know your respondents a little more like their age, sex, gender, etc. Questions based on gender have an extremely valuable impact on the results. It will enable you to derive results and study behavioral patterns according to gender and to make wise decisions for the purpose you are conducting your research. Asking gender questions enable you to ensure that your sample is representative or to study the gender effects on your research. Thus, using the age-old methods of asking gender questions of two options, if not altered will keep giving you statistical data which is not accurate, skip important variations of responses based on genders and limits understanding of the research.