The Evolution of Demographic Questions: New Position Paper from the Insights Association IDEA Council

How should market researchers and insights professionals be asking demographic questions on Gender, Sexual Orientation, and Race and Ethnicity? The Insights Association’s IDEA Council recently set out to answer this important question, in line with its mission to deliver measurement, education, and standards of excellence to address the lack of representation in the insights profession and the populations it researches. We were proud to collaborate with the IDEA Council on this latest research-on-research project.


The truth is that there are many organizations like ours that are working to bring greater diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) to the industry. These issues are critical, especially in the face of a changing population, evolving terminology and the outdated way that demographic questions are asked in market research. Achieving the goal of unbiased, quality outcomes means we must start to take significant strides toward evaluating our current practices and mapping a way forward to inclusivity.


This new research with the IDEA Council indicates that a good starting point is to change the way we ask demographic questions. Findings are covered in a new position paper, “The Evolution Of Demographic Questions” which contains a review of current market research demographic question structures and practices, and how they are currently applied in a variety of scenarios. It also contains some initial recommendations on how to ask demographic questions, and how researchers can already shift their study structures to have a greater emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB).


The paper includes general guidelines to help insights professionals think through the placement of demographic and sensitive questions and how to ask them. In addition, the paper provides initial recommendations in each of the following three categories, along with a number of alternative ways these demographic questions are being asked today and the various aspects of the question stems and responses that need to be better understood in terms of the impact on research participants and how participants perceive the questions and classify themselves.

How to Ask About Gender and Sexual Orientation
Gender is often a key demographic question used in sample design, and the way people self-identify on gender is changing. The definition of gender has become more fluid. The paper differentiates between sex, gender, and sexual orientation and provides a recommendation on how to ask gender that gives research participants the option to self-identify.


How to Ask About Sexual Orientation
Separately from gender questions, the paper includes a section on sexual orientation—a unique area that has received an inconsistent approach in market research in the past. The paper includes a brief overview and set of recommendations and looks forward to the future when more research is conducted to further inform how to approach asking about sexual orientation.

How to Ask About Race and Ethnicity
In addition to offering definitions for Race, Ethnicity, Origin, Ancestry, Heritage and Nationality, the new position paper outlines the many issues to be addressed in these categories and provides an initial recommendation until further testing is done. Here in the United States, “we currently are at an inflection point where asking single-select race/ethnicity does not apply to most people, and there is large variability in how different racial and ethnic groups self-identify.” It will be critical to test and understand how best to ask these questions to not only be inclusive of all groups, but to get the best possible insights from our studies.


Next Steps
While this position paper shares where we are at now in the market research industry, and some actionable steps for implementation, we now must conduct research to test ways of asking gender, sexual orientation, and race and ethnicity that will be ultimately the most inclusive and informative. Logica, along with the IDEA council, look forward to the results of this upcoming research that will offer the insights industry a path forward toward research that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.


Special thanks to all the IDEA council members and the Logica Research team members Carole Herpin and Kerol Guaqueta who contributed greatly to this important work.


You can download a copy of “The Evolution of Demographic Questions” here, and please reach out to us to see how you can fold these recommendations into your next project.

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