Editor’s note: This article is based on a report from ESOMAR titled, “Gender: Best Practice Recommendations for multi-country work” and an article from the Insights Association IDEA Council entitled, “The Evolution of Demographic Questions.” 

All around the world there is controversy surrounding how to ask gender questions in surveys. With differing views, translation issues and confusion on terms, it can be difficult to conduct multinational studies. 

ESOMAR released a report with tips on how to conduct multicountry demographic studies. The Insights Association IDEA Council also has an article on the issue of how to ask gender and race/ethnicity demographic questions. 

While the ESOMAR report is focused on a global scale, the IDEA Council article focuses on these topics in the United States. In this blog, I will share some of the key highlights from both. 

Before getting into the recommendations of ESOMAR and the IDEA Council, let's explore the difference between gender and sex. These terms are often intertwined but are truly different. 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, gender is defined as “the behavioral, cultural or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.” 

Whereas the Merriam Webster definition for sex is “either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male especially on the basis of their reproductive organs and structures.” 

ESOMAR and the IDEA Council share additional descriptors that dive into the differences: 

“Gender is personal, how someone sees themselves, while sexual orientation is interpersonal, concerned with to whom someone is emotionally, romantically and/or sexually attracted.” - ESOMAR 

“We have seen a lot of new questions that are mixing these elements. Many of the terms used are not well understood by research participants leading to man...