Nav: Home

GVSU, Stanford study: More gender diversity needed in survey questions

October 11, 2016

ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Most people have taken a survey or completed a questionnaire in the past that has asked the question: "Are you male or female?" A joint study from Grand Valley State University and Stanford University suggests that this traditional survey question does not mirror gender diversity in the world today.

The study explains that traditional understandings of sex and gender found in social surveys do not reflect either academic theories about the differences between sex and gender, nor how a growing number of people prefer to identify themselves.

"Beliefs about gender have shifted dramatically in recent years, enabling greater recognition for people with a range of gender identities and expressions," said Laurel Westbrook, associate professor of sociology at Grand Valley, and study co-author. "If survey research is to remain a powerful tool for tracking social trends and monitoring discrimination, survey questions need to reflect that we do not live in a world populated by only females and males, or strictly feminine or masculine people."

The study, "Scaling Up: Representing Gender Diversity in Survey Research," proposes that, in addition to asking people about what sex they were assigned at birth and their current gender identity, surveys should measure femininity and masculinity on separate scales to account for diversity within and overlap between gender categories.

To test the effectiveness of these scales, in particular, the research team conducted a survey of 1,500 adults in the U.S. in November 2014.

Aliya Saperstein, assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University, and study co-author, said the scales included four questions. People were asked how they see themselves on two scales from "not at all" to "very" feminine, and from "not at all" to "very" masculine. They were also asked how they thought most other people would see them in terms of femininity and masculinity.

"By measuring femininity and masculinity separately, we avoid the pitfalls of treating them as mutually exclusive, as if you can only be one or the other rather than some of both," said Saperstein.

The survey results supported this conclusion. Less than one-quarter of respondents reported seeing themselves as very feminine or masculine, and not at all the other. Seven percent gave identical responses on the femininity and masculinity scales, and four percent were either males who saw themselves as more feminine or females who saw themselves as more masculine.

"The scales are a viable way to measure gender diversity in a way that captures within both cisgender and transgender populations," said Devon Magliozzi, a sociology graduate student at Stanford University, and study co-author. "Most research right now on how to best measure gender on surveys focuses on adding categories that reflect the identities of transgender respondents. We support that effort, but our research shows that just adding transgender answer options will still mask a high level of gender diversity within the population."

The study was recently published in Sage Journals' Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World. The full study can be viewed at
For more information, contact Westbrook at

Grand Valley State University

Related Diversity Articles:

Revealing Aspergillus diversity for industrial applications
In a Feb. 14, 2017 study published in Genome Biology, an international team report sequencing the genomes of 10 novel Aspergillus species, which were compared with the eight other sequenced Aspergillus species.
Important to maintain a diversity of habitats in the sea
Researchers from University of Gothenburg and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) show that both species diversity and habitat diversity are critical to understand the functioning of ecosystems.
Discovering what shapes language diversity
A research team led by Colorado State University is the first to use a form of simulation modeling to study the processes that shape language diversity patterns.
Making the switch to polarization diversity
New silicon photonic chip that offers significant improvement to the optical switches used by fiber optic networks to be presented at OFC 2017 in Los Angeles.
Deciphering the emergence of neuronal diversity
Neuroscientists at UNIGE have analysed the diversity of inhibitory interneurons during the developmental period surrounding birth.
Epigenetic diversity in childhood cancer
Tumors of the elderly carry many DNA mutations that can influence disease course.
Diversity without limits
Now, researchers at Temple and Oakland universities have completed a new tree of prokaryotic life calibrated to time, assembled from 11,784 species of bacteria.
Threatened by diversity
Psychologist Brenda Major identifies what may be a key factor in many white Americans' support for Donald Trump.
Diversity as natural pesticide
Monoculture crops provide the nutrient levels insect pests crave, explains a study led by the University of California, Davis, in the journal Nature. Returning plant diversity to farmland could be a key step toward sustainable pest control.
A missing influence in keeping diversity within the academy?
A new study of science Ph.D.s who embarked on careers between 2004 and 2014 showed that while nearly two-thirds chose employment outside academic science, their reasons for doing so had little to do with the advice they received from faculty advisors, other scientific mentors, family, or even graduate school peers.

Related Diversity Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".