“Identifying Gender Minorities in Population-Based Proxy Surveys”

Brian Robertson PhD, Mark Noyes MPH, Paige Lewis

Presentation, APPOR Annual Conference May 2018



Identifying members of gender minorities has proven challenging to survey researchers. Transgender, gender non-binary and other gender minority groups are extremely small by definition and, when they are contacted at all, face significant social stigma that creates reticence to inform researchers of their identity. Surveys-by-proxy help to solve the issue of low likelihood of contact by gathering data from one individual about many members of a social group. Advances in survey methodology and new questioning techniques also help collect accurate responses to gender identity questions. Applying these techniques to surveys-by-proxy is critical to understanding even basic aspects of this population.

During a state-wide survey performed in Oregon in 2017, an experimental design was included using two different methods to assess the gender identity of household members. The control method focused on reducing population-wide non-response by asking a single question containing all possible responses and providing interviewers with special instructions. The second method assessed gender identity in two separate questions; sex at birth and current gender identity.

Analysis of the results shows that the two-question sex at birth/current gender identity process is a viable model in proxy surveys. Respondents in the control group identified gender minority individuals as 0.0005% of the population (6 individuals in a population of 12,629). Respondents in the experimental group identified gender minority individuals as 0.01% of the population (91 in a population of 8,700). Though data on this population is sparse, this latter rate is more in line with current estimates.

Respondents were able to identify gender minority household members in all manner of relationships. By incorporating a two-question framework, future research will be able to better identify gender minority individuals in the general population and better understand their presence in the population, unique needs, opinions, and situations.

True population estimate remains unknown, proxy measurement of gender minority individuals is clearly possible.

Questions must be crafted to make the availability of gender minority options explicit, and should likely separate the constructs of sex and gender to obtain the best results.