How to best tackle demographic survey questions

Writing demographic survey questions can be tricky because they ask personal information. However, there are best practices to help take the awkwardness out of writing these types of questions.

Race & ethnicity

One of the best practices is to first ask a person about their ethnicity. Ethnicity refers to what someone identifies with culturally. A great initial question is: “Are you of Hispanic or Latino origin?” giving respondents the option to answer “yes” or “no”.

Then, it’s best to ask about race—the physical characteristic of a person. The most commonly used categories for questions are below:

  • American Indian/Native American
  • Asian/Pacific Islander
  • Black/African-American
  • White/Caucasian
  • Other (specify)


There was a time when gender was a dichotomous category but things have changed greatly since then. Simply giving respondents the option of “male” and “female” may leave some respondents confused given that they don’t identify with either category. One of the best practices is to offer various options with the option of writing in a response. Instead of asking about “gender”, it’s best to ask about “gender identity”. Some great response options include:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Male-transgender
  • Female-transgender
  • Gender variant/non-conforming
  • Other/not listed (specify)
  • Prefer not to answer

Marital status 

Like gender, marital status is not what it used to be. The best practice is to include various categories that properly encompass the type of society we live in today. A great example of categories is the following:

  • Single
  • Married
  • In a domestic partnership
  • Divorced
  • Separated
  • Widowed
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