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Should our default gender when selecting male/female on the dropdown list be based on the local sex ratio (if a country have more female than male then female is the default value)?

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22  
So if someone forgets to enter their gender, you plan on recording it as whatever the default is? –  JohnGB Nov 2 '11 at 9:32
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FYI you're asking for sex not gender, at least presumably gender is less relevant. Besides, sex ratio is usually almost exactly a 50% split with about 2% margin of error--I would never assume a default based on numbers, even ignoring the reasons others have stated below –  Ben Brocka Nov 2 '11 at 13:17
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Even sex isn't a simple Male/Female - at least allow a blank option for the few who don't fall into either –  Izkata Nov 2 '11 at 14:00
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IMHO, I'd first ask if this is even information that is really important to collect. –  DA01 Nov 2 '11 at 14:28
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Why do you need the gender? Is there a real, true, legitimate need for it? How about just leaving it out entirely? –  Alex Feinman Nov 2 '11 at 19:46
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5 Answers 5

up vote 95 down vote accepted

You don't select a default at all

Using a drop down list or a radio group - you let the user decide - and this also prevents accidental submision of a form without the user setting this value (assuming it's gets validated) because there is no other way of validating it - only the user knows their gender so there is no right/wrong validation other than 'is it set'

Here are examples from Windows Live ID sign-up, Facebook sign-up, Yahoo sign-up

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In fact in my own survey of over 100 high profile sign-up forms:

Only 20% of those sites asked the gender of which:

  • 20 did not pre-select - by using one of the options above.
  • 2 forms prefilled with the option 'Female' (bebo and foursquare)
  • 0 forms prefilled with 'Male'

Furthermore - of the 20 that did not pre-select:

  • 2 sites - TypePad and Etsy, gave options to not provide gender via a third option:

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Grooveshark go the extra mile (although I'd at least expect consistency)

  • to try and make it clearer by using symbols on their sign up:

enter image description here

  • or in their 'edit profile' they use another version in which the wording has clearly been carefully considered and accounts for the gender/sex issue as to how the user identifies themselves:

enter image description here

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1  
Check out the wording on the Grooveshark one. Remember that some people do find it difficult to answer these questions. Maybe you could edit your answer to include this example? imgur.com/odxmx –  billynomates1 Nov 2 '11 at 12:33
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+1 Good answer, my thoughts exactly. Would be interesting to do some empirical testing to find out how many people would "forget" to change the gender (i.e. how many males are registered as female for bebo and foursquare). –  Jeroen Nov 2 '11 at 12:34
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Not sure that Grooveshark's symbols actually make anything clearer. (What if I want to log in as male but I'm not wearing a baseball cap???) –  Abby T. Miller Nov 2 '11 at 14:25
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+1 for mentioning the "rather not say" option. This is a pretty sensitive subject. When Google+ launched, having a published sex was mandatory. This caused an enormous stir. Randall Munroe wrote a comprehensive post on the subject. –  Barend Nov 2 '11 at 14:31
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TypePad and Etsy have the right idea: no default, and offer an option to rather not say. Depending on the audience, you may want to offer more choices. –  Todd Sieling Nov 2 '11 at 19:28
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How about asking the user to select their gender in the form of their preferred third-person pronoun ("his", "her", "their"), instead of providing their biological sex?

Listing "their" rather than "its", because I doubt anyone wants to be referred to as "it". For example:

Which sentence sounds right?
[ ] <user> updated his profile.
[ ] <user> updated her profile.
[ ] <user> updated their profile.
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2  
+1. This looks rather odd at first, but "Which pronouns do you prefer?" is actually the standard way to ask questions about gender in spaces which are friendly to trans and genderqueer people. –  TRiG Sep 30 '12 at 20:16
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Unless you have a good reason to have the gender, I would agree with @Roger that not pre-selecting is the best option. I would also add that not validating at all, and allowing a selection of Male and Female is probably the best option.

The clientelle of the site is also important, and not always obvious. Females are far more common users of web sites - especially e-commerce - than are normally expected. Knowing your users is critical if you insist on setting a default - many of the sites I have worked on, female would be default.

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In form fields like that, I usually make the first value null, to indicate no item was selected.

As far as order, I would either defer to the audience, then just go standard M/F

For the drop down, make it optional, with the default value of null (so as to allow form submission without error)

Gender:
Select one  <null>
Male        <male>
Female      <female>
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I believe you should not leave a default option if you want to get this information. Just use radio buttons, for example. And validate that the user has selected an option on submit.

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1  
Radio buttons should have a default selection. Point 9 nngroup.com/articles/checkboxes-vs-radio-buttons –  rk. Jun 26 '13 at 13:57
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