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)?

  • 37
    So if someone forgets to enter their gender, you plan on recording it as whatever the default is?
    – JohnGB
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 9:32
  • 19
    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
    – Zelda
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 13:17
  • 21
    Even sex isn't a simple Male/Female - at least allow a blank option for the few who don't fall into either
    – Izkata
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 14:00
  • 17
    IMHO, I'd first ask if this is even information that is really important to collect.
    – DA01
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 14:28
  • 19
    Why do you need the gender? Is there a real, true, legitimate need for it? How about just leaving it out entirely? Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 19:46

5 Answers 5


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 submission 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:

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  • 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:

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  • 3
    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
    – MSpeed
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 12:33
  • 3
    +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
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 12:34
  • 24
    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???)
    – hairboat
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 14:25
  • 21
    +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
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 14:31
  • 4
    "Rather not say" is a step in the right direction, but it still excludes "I'd like to say, but I'm neither!"
    – Gray
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 16:03

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.
  • 9
    +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
    Commented Sep 30, 2012 at 20:16
  • 2
    I feel this comes with the extra price of confusing every or almost every user. You have to stop and think what's being asked.
    – Kos
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 8:04
  • 3
    this only works in some languages like English. You can't use this in some other languages
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 16:25
  • Similar to this, I've seen in a lot of sites where you choose how you prefer to be called: Mr/Mrs/Ms. Which can be adapted to other languages than english.
    – Luciano
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 12:42
  • @Luciano, not really. I don't think many languages differentiate between Mrs and Ms.
    – Rudey
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 13:44

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.


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)

Select one  <null>
Male        <male>
Female      <female>

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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