In a survey form, which options would be the best (user friendly)?
tl;dr: No matter what you do, you will be in good company. Purely as far as order goes male-first seems to be the traditional preference and seems to match linguistic expectations of most users. Despite this modern western tech companies seem to opt for female-first.
A lot of the answers dive into western liberal notions about sexuality and gender and the perception of the question itself. Although this is an interesting and fascinating philosophical question it's hardly relevant for non-western cultures where asking for sex is still a normal question. This can be normal because of grammatical reasons (addressing a person without knowing their gender is not possible in some languages (or at the very least most indo european languages don't allow you to talk about a person without knowing their gender)) or simply because a lot of cultures embrace different gender roles.
Especially if you are addressing a purely western audience it is however a good idea to consider whether you need this information. From a UX perspective decreasing friction by not including the question (or making it optional) is advantageous, however it comes at its own cost.
So, back to the actual question
Usage across texts and the entire internet
Without a particularly strong UX reason to deviate from the norm the best rule of thumb is to match the expectations the user will have.
One way to get an impression of user expectations is by looking at Google ngrams which shows term usage in books (only including a minimal amount of forms of course):
Another option is looking at google search results: 21,100,000 vs 570,000 results respectively for "male or female" or "female or male".
I checked the same for Dutch, German and Slovak and this seems to hold true across a variety of western cultures, so from that point of view mentioning 'male' first seems to be the best choice.
Usage exclusively on registration forms on most popular websites
Secondly I wanted to take a look at what most popular (as defined by the Alexa site ranking) websites use:
- Google: non-binary dropdown form with 'female' first
- Youtube: see Google
- Facebook: binary with 'female' first
- Baidu: 'male' first
- Wikipedia: doesn't ask
- Yahoo: free form input with suggested option list with 'female' first
- Google India: see Google
- Amazon: doesn't ask
- Tencent QQ: 'male' first
- Google Japan: see Google
- Windows Live: non-binary dropdown, 'male' first
- Taobao: Need Chinese phone number to get to 'personal information' part of the form
- VK.com: 'female' first
- Twitter: Doesn't ask
- Instagram: Doesn't ask
- Hao123: See baidu
- Sohu: Doesn't ask
My conclusion from this is that: 1) Traditionally 'male' first had a strong preference 2) Silicon Valley companies seem to strongly prefer 'female'-first.
Either way: You will be fine whatever you pick and considering the diversity of orders and inputs types on popular registration forms it's safe to assume that users will not be too confused no matter what you do.
The first thing is to ask if this absolutely necessary within your system?
If you don't need to ask for a gender then don't.
Modern understanding of what gender means is incredibly complicated (there are at least 6 options I can think of) and can also be incredibly personal.
If you really do need to ask (although I can't envision anything outside medicine or insurance that would make it a necessity) the you should simply ask for the users' "Which gender are you?" and try to offer an option that allows your users to with hold that information - something like "I'd prefer not to answer"
Before proceeding further, I would recommend reading the guidance on collecting data on sex and gender (PDF) to ensure you act both legally and ethically. Depending on the laws in your country, you may not be able to collect the data if it's not relevant.
Not only does the guidance suggest people rethink the binary options, but also:
Members must ensure that participants will be able to proceed through any research without being required to indicate male or female options if they do not identify as such.
They provide a checklist, indicating that among other things researchers need to:
Be clear as to which category of information they wish to collect. Sex and gender are related but distinct and researchers must choose the right concept.
Encourage clients to consider whether the demographic information is relevant. This is especially important if considering collecting trans-history but the appropriate level of detail required for a project should always be reviewed.
Having said that:
There are 5 ways to organise things.
- Hierarchy or Magnitude
Since none of the others could apply with acceptable logic, the only sensible answer is alphabetical and you would of course introduce the options in the same order:
Are you female or male?
However, that answers the question only as asked, without getting into a debate about the sensitivity of the question's wording.
Now depending on exactly why you're asking, there may be better, less direct options including ones that don't require a specific statement, or 'helpful' options that are not binary.
The remaining questions relate to products usually targeted at women, would you like to continue?
We want to make sure the following questions are relevant. Please select an option below that describes you best
- Prefer not to answer
Randall Munroe from the xkcd blog has a different approach:
Do you have a Y chromosome?
If unsure, select “Yes” if you are physically male and “No” if you are physically female. If you have had SRS, please respond for your sex at birth. This question is relevant to the genetics of colorblindness
The reason is to avoid a question that "doesn’t have a good, clear answer available for transsexuals, intersex people, and people who already know they have chromosomal anomalies". For me, this immediately clears all the debates, avoids asking a sensitive question, but still has the data to explore and analyze. It also provides the reason why the information is important.
I think it'd make the most sense to order it by the most likely expected response. Similar to putting "United States" first in a list of countries on an primarily USA-based app, there's nothing wrong with ordering it for ease of use for your particular audience, especially if you target a particular gender demographic.
As a transgender person myself, regarding the nature of the question, it's heartwarming to see these other answers care about being inclusive, and I agree that in nearly every case, limited it to "female or male" would be annoying at best, or offensive at worst. To that, I'd suggest being more specific about what exactly you're going to use this information for:
If it's for a genetic survey, ask for
XX, and a field for
other to fill in various XXY, XO etc. -- a genetic survey should be interested in intersex/Klinefelter-syndrome info anyway.
If it's for demographic/analytics, push for at least adding
prefer not to say so people can opt out for privacy concerns.
If you're using it to make your website more friendly and personalized, then a friendly thing to do would be to ask
How should we address you? with
Male (he/him) and preferably a neutral option
Neutral (they/them). Yes, it's OK to use singular "they", even recently under the AP Style guide. Facebook does this really well if you're logged in and choose a custom gender (they do a binary choice for new users though):
Distinguishing between "gender" and "sex" is pointless, because the user will likely answer as their "lived-as gender" regardless of what you ask, unless you craft a long tedious explanation of why biological sex is most important (and even in that case, I'd personally answer with my lived gender anyway because I'll still be skeptical about why you need to know).
I assume you want to avoid the word "sex" and limiting gender to only two options may seem offensive to some.
Nevertheless, coming back to your original question, I'd opt for the fist choice, "Are you male or female?". The justification is that in many languages one achieves a sort of pleasant words flow when placing a shorter component before the longer one.
If you have the impression that "male or female" may favour one gender over the other, as an alternative you might thing about that: "ladies and gentlemen" [shorter and longer] sound more natural than "gentlemen and ladies".
Take a look at this article https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201609/how-should-market-researchers-ask-about-gender-in-surveys since it has interesting information about asking gender on a survey, even for cases when the user is transgender.
Here's a paragraph that sums up everything and the best approach (according to the article):
(...) by asking the “What’s your gender?” question and providing only the “male” and “female” options to choose from violates both principles. It is an implicit endorsement of discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming respondents. And in some cases, the analysis may end up masking differences between respondent groups (because gender was not elicited correctly). Using a five-category question to provide gender that allows respondents to choose from male, female, transgender, and other, categories, and the freedom to write-in a custom response if other is chosen, will increase both accuracy and inclusiveness of market research surveys.
To answer the direct question, I prefer "male" before "female" as a user.
- It's more euphonic.
- It's conventional.
- Efficiency is not sacrificed for either user case.
As I am reading through the form, it is much more euphonic to read "male" prior to "female." Go ahead and say them each out loud. "Male-fe-male." Now say "Fe-male-male." The latter is so phonetically ugly that it interrupts my flow as a user. This has been the conventional order of appearance for so long, probably because it is more phonetically pleasing, that to suddenly see it switch would appear out of ordinary and may distract me slightly as a user.
Standards and conventions are great for users because we expect something to be in a certain place and it requires way less effort to find it. Imagine if a new update in your web browser switched the order of the back and forward buttons. There's nothing inherently wrong with it. It's no more difficult to click either one. It might even make more sense for somebody who is used to an RTL language.
But as a western convention, it would be extremely out of the ordinary and not intuitive for your average user. It goes against well established user habits. In your case, the user habit has been established before they were even exposed to your form.
Remember that you want me to fill out your survey. I understand how difficult it can be to find people who are willing to participate. That's why it is important to remove as many barriers as possible that may stand in the way of me efficiently completing your survey. Work with the user and their existing habits. Do not disrupt their flow or break convention unless it is necessary and you feel that it will ultimately serve the purpose of providing a better user experience for the most users and reduce your bounce rate.
As far as efficiency for the user making a selection, I do not believe that selecting the first or second option requires any additional effort over the other. Especially having a conventional expectation of "male" before "female," I can select the option that applies to me after having barely looked at it.
The only circumstance I can imagine that would make selecting one option any less efficient for the user is if they are navigating with the keyboard and selecting the second option requires a single additional keystroke. This is not likely to impede user experience or create any barriers to the user continuing and completing the survey.
As far as user experience goes, you really can't go wrong by sticking to the convention your users are familiar with.
Edit: I focused entirely on the options with consideration for the content and failed to consider the question "Are you male or female" as it introduces the options. The options should definitely be presented in the same order as they are first introduced to the user. It should not matter whether the options are male/female or cats/dogs. A user is learning to interact with your form as they use it. Consistency makes this process much easier and inconsistency leads to confusion and disruption.
This way, nobody can accuse you of bias for putting one choice before the other! Half the time it's one way, half the time the other. As a bonus, the people who want the "male" choice to be first for the sake of tradition are satisfied customers half of the time.
You should not worry about placing them in any particular order. Just toss a coin and place them randomly (at design time; doing so per each page reload makes little sense). Why?
Because being obsessed so much with the (very immature) idea of "listed first == respected most" just helps the world to continue becoming a worse place to live in and stimulates all kinds of baseless hypersensitivity to imaginary and/or far-fetched insults, like being listed last or first.
You see, in order to satisfy everybody you'd have to reject the very notions of space and time and go quantum, superimposing all the text items denoting different 'gender configurations' (trying your best to guess whatever new term for 17th or 23rd configuration they've just came up with recently) on top of each other in one place, and also making sure that nobody/nomind/nosoul is able to actually collapse this superposition into a state unfavorable for her/him/it/one and thus become insulted; singularity seems to be the goal of all progressive mankind/womankind/humankind/beingkind after all, they gotta love it.
Also, what if someone gets insulted for not being listed first from the bottom or at the center?
P.S. You may also want to inform your users explicitly that the order of items is random, so that they could only blame the Merciless Hand of Providence and not your evil intent.
Just going to leave this wiki article about intersex here.
As such, from a professional point of view, irrespective of whether your question is enquiring about their physiology or orientation, you should leave an option that other than "Male" or "Female".
Typically, this can be as simple as "Other" or "Prefer not to say".
Specific to the 2 images given, I take it your question was meant to emphasize the order to present the options in.
In this case, why not just stick to alphabetical ordering? The "Other" or "Prefer not to say" option should always be last.
In survey software, options are listed in random order, and the question should not itself suggest any answers in any order.
If you are asking a variety of similar questions, eg:
- What is your gender identity?
- What is your birth gender?
- What is your sexual preference?
- For what gender identity are you most often buying our product?
- What gender do you feel our product is the best match for?
... etc, then the answers may be randomized per-form, rather than per-question. So half of the people taking the survey will have male-first on all their questions, and half will have female-first, on all questions.
The idea behind this is to prevent any biases that might come from having a fixed order to the questions.
As others have pointed out, though - do make absolutely certain that you are providing options to cover all applicable cases, and do make absolutely sure that you need, and are permitted to gather this information in the manner that you are gathering it.
If displaying their response publicly (if it's a social networking site profile form, for example) then you will need to be even more careful.
Consult your legal team before completing the design phase of this work.