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I'm trying to work out the wording for (preferably) a gender dropdown in a user profile of a site I'm working on. I want to be inclusive of people who don't gender orient to either male or female ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_identity ) but I don't want to use a textbox for this field because I'd still like to have some clear demographic data about the majority of my users who would like fall under the simple male/female heading.

If I use a text box I'd have to parse out a lot of "male", "MALE", "Man", "guy", etc. to get the clean data.

My thought was to just have a simple dropdown for "Gender: " with the options of "male", "female", and "other".

Is "other" an appropriate handling of this group? Is gender the right label for this field?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 27 down vote accepted

I was having a discussion with my housemate who is a data analyst by trade, and the conclusion that we came to is that there are two sensible options here, depending on the amount of work you personally want to do (we're assuming here that the collection of gender data is actually useful to you, rather than simply of interest in which case it may be better to simply leave it out).

The first option is to have three or four discrete options: Female, Male, Other, and possibly Prefer not to say. In my experience, this is an acceptable option for gathering data while being inclusive - it acknowledges that there are people who don't fit the gender binary, and allows them to select a different option. It also allows people to completely opt out if they really don't want to answer (the standard objection is that it'll negatively impact your data collection, but in practice it probably doesn't make much of a difference). Unless their gender is specifically relevant to the application, there's probably little chance of someone being directly upset by being unable to express their exact gender identity (note that if gender identity is important to your application for some reason, then this is not really a sensible or inclusive option).

The second option is to have a textbox and suck it up - it's a data sanitisation problem. A simple find/replace on your dataset will be able to lump your users into a group of man/male/boy responses, a group of woman/female/girl responses, and a group of assorted other responses. Crucially if you're doing demographic analysis, whatever is left over probably isn't statistically significant at an individual level so in your analysis it is acceptable to put them in an internal Other category. You can then preserve that minority data for further study should you find you need it.

Gender is the correct label for this field, from a descriptive point of view and from a data collection point of view. You'd be surprised how many people think it's hilarious to answer Sex: with "Yes please".

If you choose to go with the simple dropdown/radio button approach, then Other is an appropriate label for the third group. It is easily understandable, and non-exclusive in terms of what it might represent. Transgender is probably not an appropriate label here unless you include additional ones because it excludes people outside the binary who are not transgender or who do not view the label as appropriate for them (while it may technically be inclusive of a wide variety of gender identities, in common use it tends only to represent people who are transsexual). There is one minor problem with the use of the word "other", however - it is directly exclusionary and can potentially feel like the user is being shoved into a box of leftovers - not an ideal experience! For that reason, a text box is probably preferred if you want to make sure you're being inclusive.

Think Outside The Box mirrors these recommendations and has some other interesting guidelines for form construction.

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3  
+1 for the "Yes please" response, do it every time. People should get their damn labels right. :D –  TC1 Sep 18 '12 at 13:07
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Ehhh the text box is a pain in the butt not only for you but for your users (if any actually care to read the Gender box). It's more than a data sanitisation problem, and it's not a sanitisation problem that's possible to solve 100%. –  Ben Brocka Sep 18 '12 at 13:11
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@TC1 I know you're joking, but actually sex is a perfectly valid label. Sex and gender are not the same thing. Sex is biological, gender is more psychological. Male and Female and Intersex are sexes, Masculine and Feminine are genders, as are gay, bi, etc. All that said, I'd question very strongly why you're even collecting this data. Unless it provides a direct benefit to your users (say, if you're running a site providing sex advice support to people) I'd argue that intrusive personal questions like this should not appear. –  Peter Bagnall Sep 18 '12 at 15:22
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@PeterBagnall Gay and Bi aren't genders, they are sexual orientations. Neither are masculine or feminine, which are characteristics or traits. Male, Female, Agender, Genderqueer and so on are examples of genders. –  dhmholley Sep 18 '12 at 17:27
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Actually, you guys are hilariously wrong. If you're collecting data on sex/gender for demographic purposes, you're typically doing it so you can make predictions about what the groups do, or get insights into their behaviour. In this case it's unhelpful to ask about sex over gender; since sex is more physical than psychological, it is a strictly worse predictor of behaviour than gender is. This doesn't even begin to touch on the fact that telling a transgender person that their gender doesn't matter and that their biological sex is the thing you care about is both dehumanising and backwards. –  dhmholley Sep 18 '12 at 23:32

My recommendation is: leave the gender out of the form if you can. Only collect the user data you really need, and when you need it (Credit card data on payment, address on checkout and the like.).

But if you have to add something, you can do it like when creating a new Live-ID at Microsoft. They added "Not Specified" which work well if you don't want to add info:

enter image description here

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The target audience for the site is pretty much the general public, so I don't assume there will be an over representation of non-traditional gender identity. I would like to have some basic gender data from my user base because the demographic info adds value for me. –  DorkRawk Sep 18 '12 at 6:50
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+1 for leaving it out if at all possible. –  André Sep 18 '12 at 7:46
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Just a note to add that gender has nothing to do with sexual orientation, so I'm confused why you've listed a range of orientations after the word. –  dhmholley Sep 18 '12 at 10:05
    
@dhmholley True that. Wikipedia says:"Transgender" does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation; transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual. Maybe I'd revise my answer accordingly? –  Benny Skogberg Sep 18 '12 at 10:07
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@Benny. Sexual orientation and gender identity are generally regarded as orthogonal, at least in modern Western cultures. Other cultures divide the labels up differently. In other words "Transgender (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or asexual)" is about as relevant as "Transgender (blonde, brunette, or ginger)". –  TRiG Sep 18 '12 at 13:53

I such cases I always say: look if there's an ISO standard. There is one: ISO 5218

ISO/IEC 5218 Information technology — Codes for the representation of human sexes is an international standard that defines a representation of human sexes through a language-neutral single-digit code. It can be used in information systems such as database applications. The four codes specified in ISO/IEC 5218 are:

0 = not known,
1 = male,
2 = female,
9 = not applicable.
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7  
This is nice if you're categorizing people based on what you know, but it's not human; "Other" is much more applicable than "Not known" (they know, it's just not on your form) and "not applicable" (which becomes your "other"). –  Ben Brocka Sep 18 '12 at 13:13
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You can use this system on the back-end and map it to a more human presentation on the front-end. It turns out it maps perfectly to dhmholley's answer of Female, Male, Other, and Prefer Not to Say. –  Evan Sep 18 '12 at 13:56
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That's really useful, but doesn't answer the gender question, it's for sexes, which is not the same thing as gender. who.int/gender/whatisgender/en –  Peter Bagnall Sep 18 '12 at 15:16

I believe that there is an emerging standard around this issue, I seem to recall that our U.S. based payroll software was required to list M, F, and N. However, I cannot locate any external reference for that convention.

The Australian government uses X, and at least one transgender resource site uses a more complicated set of options:

Male
Female
Intersex
Androgyne
Queer
Questioning

But, according to IU U.S. "Federal reporting requirements only provide for male or female", though there is some indication that the National Institutes of Health recommend other options.

As others have mentioned you need to carefully consider your use for this information, and if you will ever be sharing it with any 3rd party which may have a standard already in place.

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“Other” is weird. The third sex ? Put a blank choice, “Male”, and “Female”. By doing so, you leave the user the liberty of not responding to your question. This liberty is particularly welcomed for the users who do not find the choice they want in your two choices “Male”, “Female”.

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-1 You might consider "other" to be wierd, for some people however, being asked to identify themselves as either of the choices you listed is equally wierd. Adding an extra option fills the additional use-case. –  Racheet Oct 29 '13 at 9:53
    
@Racheet — I think you have misunderstood my answer. I am for putting a third choice but not calling it “Other”. –  Nicolas Barbulesco Dec 14 '13 at 19:08

A new german law has introduced the gender "Intersex" as a third option. I sounds in my humble opionion better than "Others". "Others" implies a distance between men/women and the rest.

More about the law and the details behind it: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/third-gender-option-in-germany-a-small-step-for-intersex-recognition-a-917650.html

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This is interesting. This “Intersex” choice is far from perfect, but it is nicer than “Other”. –  Nicolas Barbulesco Dec 14 '13 at 19:10

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