a better way to ask about gender in survey questionnaires

Survey questionnaires regularly ask respondents’ sex or gender, and mostly offer only the binary options:

When presented with such a survey on paper, I typically add and then select a third option: “Fuck you”. (Similarly, I do the same with race/ethnicity questions when asked to choose one out of four or five options).

However, we increasingly answer surveys online, making this write-in approach unavailable. Furthermore, scrawling profanities onto survey forms fails to positively address the very serious problem underlying my anger: that the binary sex/gender classification erases folks who, for a variety of reasons, do not fit within it.

In what I perceive as an honest attempt at inclusion—and I sincerely appreciate the effort—Google offers an “Other” option in its Google+ profile form:

But simply adding an “other” option still emphasizes the binary classification system; it reminds respondents that they either fit in, or don’t. Very few of those who don’t fit in enjoy that interjection when it involves something as fundamental as gender identity.

I recommend the following alternative for collecting gender and sex data from survey respondents:

Here the use of sliders reflects the continuous natures of sex and gender, while the division of the query into separate, orthogonal dimensions accounts for the distinctness of biology (sex) from social artifact (gender).

Certainly this scheme fails to capture all the nuances of gender identity, particularly its flux within individuals, but it reaches for a more honest and inclusive world.


Post Author: badassdatascience

7 thoughts on “a better way to ask about gender in survey questionnaires

    […] may have to become more creative to limit the damage. (For one example of a creative approach, see here for an idea on how to avoid propagating the binary sex/gender bias through survey questionnaires). […]


    (December 24, 2011 - 8:13 am)

    The irony is that this blog post has two hash tags: “marketing” and “survey analysis”. We (brains) like to box things up into discrete packages and assign a NAME. I think it is just a strategy to conserve processing power and precious glucose. I think the real question is why should a survey even ask for gender?


    (December 24, 2011 - 8:19 am)

    and furthermore! What a data crunch nightmare it would be to feed a computer a slide ruler worth of values on every variable. Oh the irony is palpable! Palpable indeed!


    (December 24, 2011 - 8:23 am)

    And so to come full circle (and to completely graffiti your blog) things need to be compartmentalized into tidy little labels so that both computers and brains can crunch the data.


      (December 29, 2011 - 6:23 pm)

      My guess is that we’ll never escape the urge to discretize a continuous signal; maybe dividing the band into four or five “bins” would do the trick.


      (January 6, 2017 - 12:53 pm)

      Du har rätt, men ibland är det alltför mkt att folk tittar på stiktsiaten vad det gäller målvakter, läste inte heller så noga ditt inlägg och du verkar ha koll på hans stil mm.

      dresdner bank ratenkredit

      (February 12, 2017 - 6:13 pm)

      Monica skriver:Du har virkelig et talent for flotte og kule utstillinsvinduer. Og er storfan av stilen din Likte så godt det grønne skjerfet. Skal til Oslo mandag/tirsdag på shoppingtur sammen med min mor. Satser på å stikke nesa innom butikken din : ) Skjønner at du har en travel hverdag Ønsker deg derfor en ekstra fin helg : )

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