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The Global Researcher’s Guide to Gender.

“How are you talking about your participants’ gender?”

UK and US Industry guidelines currently focus on the intricacies of asking the gender question in their own markets and languages. There is almost no official guidance on localizing the question for other markets, yet we must recognise the risks of ‘getting it wrong’:

  • Participant exclusion and/or alienation
  • Skewed data
  • Legal and/or security repercussions for participants

Equally, the task of localizing the gender question comes with its own challenges. For example, the legal status of non-binary genders varies from country to country. Different cultures vary in their acceptance of certain gender identities. Some languages don’t have a separate word for ‘sex’ (physiological) and ‘gender’ (identity).

So, against the backdrop of continual socio-political change, how do you choose an approach to the gender question that is culturally appropriate, while generating the quality insight you need?

1-2% of the global population do not identify as ‘female’ or ‘male’.

Results of the Ipsos LGBT+ Pride 2021 Global Survey

On this page.

Gender recognition in law.

This table includes a snapshot of selected markets, with those that criminalise LGBT+ activity highlighted in red. Contact Gabi with your questions about the gender question in any other markets.


Official documentation allows for a third, non-binary gender, which can be self-identified.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ strongly recommended.


Collects census data on gender identity. Gender identity question introduced on social surveys in 2018.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ strongly recommended.


Legal requirement to provide a third gender option for intersex. However, legal recognition of gender is determined by expert reports, not self-identification.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ essential (legally required).


2011 census allowed for a third sex option that encompassed all minority gender terms.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ strongly recommended.


Criminalisation of LGBTQ+ activity. Maximum penalty: Up to 10 years in prison.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ are not recommended.


Decided at state-level: over half of Mexico’s states allow for legal gender change. None expressly provide gender-neutral or third gender options.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ are recommended.


Respondents can identify as a third sex on the census but output not produced due to low numbers.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ strongly recommended.

Saudi Arabia

Criminalisation of LGBTQ+ expression. Maximum penalty: Death.

Gender options other than ‘Female’ or ‘Male’ are not recommended and could endanger participants’ safety.

The information in this table is based on the 2019 ‘In-depth review of measuring gender identity’ by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the ILGA State-Sponsored Homophobia Report. For research-specific information on additional countries not listed in the table above, please reach out to Gabi.

Navigating gender in global research.

Our industry has responded to the complexity of the gender question with guidelines primarily for UK- and US-based research. The recommended approaches include asking about both assigned sex and gender identity, as well as providing options to self-identify or opt out.

What if your research is in Saudi Arabia, or any of the other dozens of countries where it is illegal to identify as anything other than male or female?

That’s where localization consultancy plays a key role in your research success. We apply up-to-date cultural knowledge from within the country to understand how the gender question will affect your insights, and adapt gender question translations to your study’s specific requirements.

Ask our specialist team member, Gabi, about the gender question in your market(s) →

Gabi Turner
Gabi Turner

An ethical approach: 3 steps to follow when asking gender in global research.

by Ruth Partington,
member of the Market Research Society’s Representation in Research Steering Committee

Read the official Market Research Society Guidance Note on Collecting Data on Sex and Gender

Step 1 – Determine if you need to ask the gender question at all

Consider your research objective. Do you need to understand a participant’s physiological sex for medical purposes? Or, are you segmenting based on consumer behaviour ‘trends’ relating to gender identity? If the question is around the latter, decide whether or not the results of asking a gender question provide mission-critical data. If not, simply don’t ask!

Step 2 – Explore different ways to compare markets

The idea that gender response options need to be identical across markets is based on the outdated assumption that all markets classify gender in the same way. Consider grouping your sample by markets with similar attitudes to gender recognition instead, or using different identity-based areas for benchmarking.

Step 3 – Respect all cultures

In global research, it is just as important to respect markets that view gender as binary. We recommend working with in-country linguists that specialise in market research on the translations, as they can provide input on the cultural and legal aspects of the question, alongside sharing knowledge of how the cross-market differences could impact benchmarking and market comparison capabilities.

The essential gender question reading list for researchers.

Collecting Data on Sex and Gender, a best practice guide by the Market Research Society

The Evolution of Demographic Questions, a practical guide by Insights Association

Redefining Identity in Research, a podcast by Insights in Color, Lucid (now Cint) and ThinkNow

The international guide to gender inclusive writing, a guide by the UX Content Collective

State-sponsored homophobia 2022, a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

Reach out for support from national MRX Associations:
Complete list of marketing research and insight associations around the world by Quirk’s

How do you describe yourself?
[Rotate 1 and 2]

1. Female
2. Male
3. Transgender
4. None of these

[If ‘None of these’ = Open End]
Q. What is your current gender identity?

Insights Association IDEA Council recommendation