Including demographic questions in research studies is pretty common practice -with these questions usually placed at the end of a survey but sometimes used as screeners in the beginning. The resulting data is sliced and diced into subgroups which can be examined for comparison and used to extract helpful insights. But what happens when these demographic questions are not entirely inclusive, or even considered offensive? You may end up with inaccurate data, missed findings, or worse, leave your customers with a negative impression of your brand.
We recommend taking a careful look into how your questions are worded to identify any gaps in the representation of the population. Updating survey questions with more diverse or sensitive language that allows respondents to appropriately identify will ultimately deliver more accurate perspectives and insights that will help you be more inclusive and effective in the marketplace.
The number of people who identify as being multiracial has increased considerably in the last ten years, with nine million people selecting more than one race in the 2010 US Census versus 33.8 million doing so in 2020 - a 276 percent increase. (Washington Post) Allowing study participants to capture their true identities is increasingly important – especially among younger generations.
As recently reported by the Insights Association’s IDEA Council, younger generations are more likely to react negatively to race and ethnicity questions. More Gen Z respondents were reportedly confused (27%), frustrated (24%), and offended (20%) by demographic questions compared to other generations. These younger respondents are much more sensitive to inclusivity and expect the brands they buy from to appropriately address them as they self-identify.
For example, the option “other” in demographic questions can elicit negative feelings, such as feeling less valuable than those options noted. Instead, try using “I identify as…” in place of “other”. Another example would be the common practice of defaulting to “African-American” in race questions, but more recently there has been conversation about preferences in identifying as “Black” versus “African-American”. Additionally, the term “Hispanic” is very broad and respondents who identify in this subset may feel bucketed, as someone from Mexican culture may have different experiences than those of South American culture. Staying on top of current conversations about race and gender, and then using the correct terminology in your demographic questions, will make your respondents feel more seen and cared for, and therefore see your brand more positively. At Vennli, we always include the open-ended, “Prefer to self-describe (please specify)” as a choice to allow participants the opportunity to express themselves and help our clients get a more accurate picture of their demographic segments.
That all said, it’s also important to recognize when you don’t need to ask these personal demographic questions at all. How will you use the information your get? Do you actually need to know someone’s gender or race? If demographic data is serving a specific purpose, by all means, collect it. But if not, it might be best to skip and focus on collecting the information you really need instead.