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How to Ask the Right Gender Survey Questions on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

Aysha Muhammed

5 January 2024

7 min read

When I think about how much we’ve all had to change and adapt, I can’t help but wonder: Do we need to unlearn some things to get what’s going on with gender these days?

The perspectives are changing fast, especially when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity. We’re all in a class together, learning to understand and respect people for who they are, no matter their gender. It’s a journey we’re all on, and we’re still figuring it out. So, let’s start with the basics and ensure we’re all on the same page.

Basics first,

How have gender surveys on sexual orientation & gender identity evolved?

According to the 2023 GLAAD Media Reference Guide, a significant 78% of Americans believe surveys should move beyond the traditional “male” and “female” binary options when asking about gender identity.

This statistic highlights a growing awareness and understanding of the diverse spectrum of gender experiences in the United States. It encourages us to re-evaluate how we capture and represent gender in surveys to ensure inclusivity and respect for everyone.

This shift is not just a reflection of changing societal attitudes in the US and globally but also serves as a crucial guide for adapting survey methodologies to address sexual orientation and gender identity more effectively and sensitively.

This research underscores the importance of staying flexible and open-minded in survey design to accurately and respectfully capture the diverse spectrum of human identity.

What are Gender Survey Questions?

One of the survey question types, a gender survey question, is used to gather the gender of a respondent. Although these questions are commonly employed in a demographic survey, they are also widely used in several other types of research, such as business, social science, etc.

Gender survey questions help the evaluators understand if and how the respondents’ gender affects the choices and assist in identifying patterns, if any. While “male” and “female” remained the only plausible choices among survey makers, it’s no longer the case today.

Case in point, with changing norms around gender identity, people no longer shy away from answering gender questions if they feel they’re relevant to the demographic survey. (Related: The 10 Best Demographic Survey Questions You Need to Ask

Why should you ask gender in a survey?

Asking about gender in a survey can be important for several reasons:

  1. Data Accuracy and Representation: Understanding gender demographics helps accurately represent and understand the survey population. It ensures that the data reflects the diversity of the group being surveyed.
  2. Informed Decision-Making: Gender-specific data can inform policies, programs, and services that address specific needs or disparities among different gender groups.
  3. Research and Analysis: For research purposes, gender data can be crucial in studying trends, behaviors, or issues that may vary by gender.
  4. Inclusivity and Awareness: Including gender questions significantly beyond the binary options promotes inclusivity and raises awareness about gender diversity.

How do you ask about gender in a survey?

To ask about gender in a survey effectively and inclusively:

  1. Offer Multiple Options: Include diverse gender identities beyond the binary male/female. Options like non-binary, transgender, intersex, and an option for self-description can be included.
  2. Use Clear Language: Ensure the wording is clear and respectful. Avoid using technical terms or jargon that might not be very clear.
  3. Include a ‘Prefer Not to Say’ Option: This respects the privacy of respondents who may not wish to disclose their gender.
  4. Consider the Purpose: Only include gender questions if they’re relevant to the survey’s goals. Unnecessary questions about gender can be intrusive.
  5. Skip and Branch Logic: Implement skip and branch logic to tailor the survey experience. Skip logic allows respondents to bypass irrelevant questions based on gender selection, while branch logic presents tailored follow-up questions according to the chosen gender identity.
  6. Be Mindful of Privacy and Sensitivity: Recognize the personal nature of gender identity and ensure confidentiality and respectful data handling.

Remember, the approach should always be respectful and mindful of your respondents’ diverse experiences and identities.

Note: Need help creating a demographic survey that ticks all the boxes regarding gender inclusivity? We got you! This template will help you get started right away.

Get this gender survey question template for free from SuvreySparrow.

Why must you include more than two gender options in your survey?

In a 2015 study, scholars Laurel Westbrook and Aliya Saperstein, in their “ New Categories Are Not Enough: Rethinking the Measurement of Sex and Gender in Social Surveys,” elaborate on the driving need to reflect on the diversity of gendered lives and better align survey measurement practice with contemporary gender theory.

In a more recent study by Pew Research Centre, four in ten (42%) U.S. adults demand that when they’re presented with a form that asks about their gender, it should include options other than “man” and “woman.”

These data only indicate the rising consciousness of gender inclusivity and the demand for improving data accuracy by means of accurate data representation. If you don’t move along this hyper-gendered world, your survey results will remain erased of essential dimensions and will perpetuate inequality.

Tips for asking mindful gender survey questions

  1. Use Inclusive Language: Provide options beyond the traditional male/female binary, such as non-binary, transgender, and an open-ended option for self-identification.
  2. Respect Privacy: Include an option like ‘Prefer not to say’ for those who wish to keep their gender identity private.
  3. Purpose of the Question: Ensure the gender question is relevant to the survey’s objectives and is asked to gather necessary information rather than out of curiosity.
  4. Confidentiality: Assure respondents that their information will be kept confidential and used responsibly.
  5. Avoid Assumptions: Do not make assumptions about the respondent based on their gender identity.
  6. Clear Instructions: Provide clear instructions on answering the question, especially if using open-ended or multiple-choice formats.
  7. Sensitivity Training: Ensure those analyzing the data are trained in understanding gender diversity and the implications of gender-related data.
  8. Include Non-Binary Gender Options: Specifically acknowledge non-binary identities by providing a non-binary option. This recognizes and respects individuals who do not identify exclusively as male or female, ensuring their representation and inclusion in survey data.

Approaching gender survey questions: Best practices

Whatever gender options you have considered and then decided on using in your survey, you still need to ask these questions correctly to gain the most value from their use. Here are some pointers to consider in the process-

I understand why you’re asking about gender in the first place

Grasping the motive for asking the gender question is a crucial part of the process. Keep your target audience and data-analysis goal in mind while framing the questions.

Throughout the process, you’ll want to weigh in on your information needs and how your respondents will perceive the question. Enough said, you can safely skip these questions unless it is not needed for your data analysis.

If you decide to ask the question, remember to tread carefully

In all earnestness, gender is often a sensitive and misunderstood subject. That’s why it’s important to reflect and introspect on questions such as

  • Why are you collecting this information?
  • What is the business rationale behind asking about gender in this form?
  • How will the information collected be utilized?
  • Do you have any legal restrictions on collecting and storing this data?

You also want to be careful not to have it mangled loosely with often wrongly interchanged terms such as “sex” or “sexual orientation.” Doing this will enrage your respondents and force them to opt out of the survey instantly.

Examples of gender survey questions to add to your survey

As American University accurately puts it, “Often the questions are asked because we feel like they should be asked, or because we consider them ‘standard’ demographic questions, not because the data are necessary for cross-tabulation.”

But if you’re confident that gender is an important data point for your survey and want to explore  the many ways in which you can add gender questions to your survey, here are some pointers to get started:

1. Opt for an open-ended question

This is your best bet if you want to make it easy for people to choose their own category. The only catch? You will have to do an open-text analysis of these responses.

“ Please specify your gender ________”


2. Radio Button Question

The next approach is to segregate the options into respectful categories. A radio button question type would be perfect in this case. If you’re going this route, you can phrase your query to something like ”To which gender identity do you most identify?” rather than simply throwing in “Gender.”


What is a demographic survey?

A demographic survey is a tool used to collect data about the characteristics of a population. These characteristics often include age, gender, income level, race, education, employment status, and marital status, among others.

Demographic surveys are widely used in various fields, such as marketing, social research, and public policy to understand and analyze a population’s composition, needs, and trends. This information is crucial for making informed decisions, developing strategies, and tailoring services to meet the needs of different groups within a population.

How to effectively use SurveySparrow’s Demographic Survey Template

To effectively use the SurveySparrow gender survey questionnaire:

  1. Customize questions to suit your specific survey goals, ensuring they are inclusive and respectful of all gender identities.
  2. To gather comprehensive data, utilize various question types offered by SurveySparrow, like multiple-choice or open-ended formats.
  3. Use SurveySparrow’s user-friendly design to create an engaging survey experience, potentially increasing response rates.
  4. Implement privacy features to ensure respondent confidentiality, which is especially for sensitive topics like gender identity.
  5. Analyze the data using SurveySparrow’s analytics tools to gain insights and inform decision-making processes.


Mistakes to avoid while asking gender survey questions

“Do it less, and we have a problem;  overdo it, and you’ll find yourself with a bigger problem at hand” is how we can best describe this use case. As much as inclusivity is indispensable, it should not happen at the cost of fatiguing your survey respondents.

On that note, here are gender survey questions to avoid:

  • Giving too many options: The peril of over-asking is real. Creating a massive list of options will tire your respondents before you know it.
  • Giving too few options: If the broader options weren’t bad enough, being a stickler for the binaries will also negatively affect you.

Wrapping up

Asking about gender in your survey isn’t always necessary. But sometimes, most times, when included, it contributes to the richness of data.

Now that more and more people are comfortable with their gender identity and sexual orientation, there has never been a better time to collect them. In fact, when researchers at the Census Bureau conducted an experiment asking respondents how they felt responding to the question on gender, nearly everyone(90%, to be exact) said they were comfortable answering them.

With a survey tool such as SurveySparrow, approaching gender survey questions is made easier than ever. With pre-made templates for every use case, versatile question types, and a conversational interface, you get to send out thoughtful surveys that resonate with your audience.

Good luck!

Aysha Muhammed

Part-time hermit and a full-time writer trying to survive the SaaS space, one blog at a time.Bylines in digital but always on deadline.


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