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Inclusive Demographics Questions for Surveys

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Demographic questions can provide valuable context when you go to analyze your survey data. Common demographic questions include gender, race and ethnicity, education level, income, and zip code.

Race and Ethnicity

Demographic questions should be asked in a way that is as inclusive as possible. Take the question of race, for example. The 2010 U.S. Census asked two items about race. First, people were asked to select one of the following options: White, Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or Some other race or origin. Next, people were asked to indicate whether or not they are of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. However, the Census Bureau considered combining these questions into a single item, though this proposal may not end up being adopted for the 2020 Census. For most audience research surveys, this second approach described (combining the two questions into one), is an inclusive option that will still allow your organization to compare your audience data to publically available census data within your community. 

If you are asking respondents about their gender, asking respondents to select Male or Female excludes respondents who do not identify as Male or Female. There are other options recommended by experts or advocates that provide more inclusive options.

In a 2014 report by the Williams Institute, they recommend a two-step process for asking about gender identity. First respondents are asked "What sex were you assigned at birth, on your original birth certificate?" which is followed by the question, "How do you describe yourself?." 

The Human Rights Coalition, in this article about collecting demographic data in the workplace, recommends the following response options related to gender:
What is your gender?
Non-binary/third gender
Prefer to self-describe ______
Prefer not to say

Consider how you will use the data

Depending on the level of confidentiality you can offer, certain demographic questions may be perceived as intrusive, and may cause people to skip questions or stop filling out your survey altogether. Every piece of data you collect in your survey should fulfill a specific purpose, but this is especially true for demographic data. Be sure that you understand why you are collecting different types of demographic data and how you plan to use them.
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