1. Executive summary
Since the publication of the Trans Data Position Paper in 2009 the trans community, trans identities and gender identity matters have become more visible in society, not just in England and Wales but in many countries around the world. There have been various changes and developments around this topic, with regards to legislation and work being undertaken to support and gain further rights for the trans community. The House of Commons appointed a Women and Equalities Committee in June 2015. Their first piece of work was to conduct a Transgender Equality inquiry.
Data on gender identity are still currently limited, though data collection methodology and question design are developing. Some work is being undertaken around gender identity and capturing trans or non-binary identities by other national statistics agencies for their respective censuses; work often involves a consideration or review of the sex question or response categories.
Whilst we have identified a need for gender identity data, the workshop we held revealed that many of the same challenges and difficulties in collecting this information still remain. The research and testing we are carrying out will inform our position on this topic and determine whether, and how best, to meet user needs for information on gender identity. Findings will inform a recommendation of how we take forward this work across our organisation. These findings will also feed into a further update which will be published in Autumn 2017.Back to table of contents
The 2021 Census topic consultation identified a need for gender identity data. The Gender identity research and testing plan was developed in response to this and sets out the research and testing we are undertaking to inform our position on this topic. Within the plan we committed to undertaking a review of the Trans Data Position Paper which was published in 2009. (From herein referred to as the “position paper”.)
This report provides an update to the position paper, detailing changes and progress around the topic of gender identity. It covers: legislation; the Women and Equalities Committee Transgender Equality inquiry; data collection and question development worldwide; and, details of our research, testing and findings so far. It also sets out the next steps and future work we will be undertaking.
We will produce a further update to the position paper in Autumn 2017.Back to table of contents
3. Background and purpose
In 2009 we published the Trans Data Position Paper, which outlined the difficulties of collecting information on transgender people within household surveys. It concluded that collecting information on this topic in household surveys was not an appropriate approach.
Within today’s society the traditional view of gender as a binary classification, male or female, is changing. There are now more varied conceptualisations and self-descriptions of gender and non-gendered identities. The trans community, trans identities and gender identity matters are becoming more visible, and this is particularly noticeable in the mainstream UK media.
Gender identity was requested as a new topic on the 2021 Census topic consultation.
Responses to the consultation identified a need among data users for information about gender identity, particularly to inform government policy development and monitoring, resource allocation and service planning. The user requirement for data on those with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment is strengthened by the Equality Act 2010. The Gender identity topic report on the consultation findings provides further information.
Since the publication of the position paper there have been changes in UK legislation that relate to gender identity, such as the Equality Act 2010. In addition, there have been developments in how data in household surveys are collected, for example, the 2021 Census will, as set out in the National Statistician’s recommendation, be a predominantly “online census of all households and communal establishments in England and Wales in 2021, as a modern successor to the traditional, paper-based decennial census.” Such changes potentially provide more opportunity to collect new and different information.
As we do not currently collect data on gender identity on any ONS social surveys, research and testing will inform our position on this topic. We have published a Gender identity research and testing plan which sets out the work we will do to help us determine whether, and how best, to meet user needs for information on this topic.Back to table of contents
4. Trans Data Position Paper (2009)
As a result of the 2007 Equalities Review by the Cabinet Office, we undertook a wide-ranging Equality Data Review (EDR). Whilst it found a great deal of data already existed, it also noted there were significant gaps in some equality areas, including information on transgender people. An important recommendation from the EDR was that: “Government agencies work with non-government stakeholders to agree an approach to obtaining more quality information on transgender people, including those undergoing the process of gender reassignment.”
In response to this recommendation we published the Trans Data Position Paper (May 2009). The paper provided an assessment of the legal framework, data user requirements and potential methodological constraints around collecting trans data.
The authors found that there is a spectrum of terminologies under the trans umbrella. It was acknowledged that classifying fluid concepts such as identity is complex. Also that trans people themselves have different preferences and words to describe themselves.
A number of methodological challenges were outlined, including: privacy and acceptability; complexity; accuracy; terminology; small sample universe, and the scope of information required.
Particular difficulties for collecting this data within household surveys included:
public acceptability concerns linked to the sensitivity of the topic and the terminology used
respondent burden concerns linked to the number of questions required to collect data on gender identity
data quality concerns linked to the small size of the population of interest and evidence demonstrating that respondents give different answers depending on the survey situation
For example, trans people obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate cannot be required to reveal their birth sex or gender history, although they may choose to disclose these. Hence, not all those with the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” will reveal their gender history.
As a result of these issues, the position paper concluded that collecting information about transgender people in household surveys was not an appropriate approach. An exploration of alternative measures was suggested, including attitude surveys, administrative data and specialist surveys. It was advised, that to be effective the work would need to be led by those associated with the trans community.Back to table of contents
5. What’s new
Since the position paper was published there have been legislative changes covering transgender people. The Equality Act 2010, extended and harmonised equality law. It states that it is unlawful to discriminate against anyone because of certain characteristics (including gender reassignment). The term transsexual person is used to refer to those who have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment and includes people who are proposing to undergo, are undergoing, or have undergone, a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning their sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex but may not cover other members of the trans community. Furthermore, the Act introduced a public sector Equality Duty, which requires public bodies to consider how their policies affect people with protected characteristics.
5.2. Women and Equalities Committee, Transgender Equality
The House of Commons appointed a Women and Equalities Committee in June 2015. The key purpose of this Committee is stated as being to hold the Government Equalities Office (GEO) to account and to monitor their performance on equality issues, including gender identity. They decided to conduct an inquiry into transgender equality as their first piece of work, based on the following:
a lack of good quality statistical data regarding trans people in the UK (our position paper was cited as evidence)
there appears to be gathering momentum for change to bring about greater equality for trans people
Britain’s recognition of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) rights has been widely praised, but is still failing in respect of trans people, despite welcome progress in recent years
trans people endure high levels of prejudice (“transphobia”) and discrimination in a wide range of settings, including public services
As a result of the inquiry, the Committee published the report on Transgender Equality in January 2016, which outlined various recommendations to the government. Recommendations include:
bringing forward proposals to update the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in line with the principles of gender self-declaration that have been developed in other jurisdictions
updating the protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 from “gender reassignment” to “gender identity”
looking into the need to create a legal category for those people with a gender identity outside that which is binary within the Equality Act 2010, and the full implications of this
amending the Equality Act 2010 regarding the availability and use of the exceptions under the Gender Recognition Act
The Government Response, published in July 2016, agreed to:
reviewing the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to tackle unnecessary bureaucracy and to assess the need for medical checks contained within the 2004 act
conducting a cross-government review on removing unnecessary requests for gender information, including on official documents
assessing how to measure the size of the UK’s transgender population so that policy can be more evidence-based
measuring and monitoring public attitudes towards transgender people
A Parliamentary debate on transgender issues was held in the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee in December 2016. Progress since their response was published was discussed, specifically in relation to amending and updating current legislation. The government committed to a review of the 2010 Equality Act, but stated that they “have not yet heard a convincing case for introducing gender identity as a protected characteristic”. They felt that the Equality Act, criminal, hate crime and employment legislation all offer protection for trans people.
We will continue to remain informed about the work of the Committee and government response and to understand any subsequent changes in legislation should they occur.
We will also continue to learn about and remain informed on related work being undertaken by other government departments.
5.3. The 2021 Census topic consultation and gender identity
The 2021 Census topic consultation identified a need among a number of data users for information about gender identity. Gender identity was not consulted on specifically. There were 54 respondents who discussed gender identity in their response. Of these, 14 specifically requested “gender identity” as an additional topic in the census. Information is required for policy development and service planning, especially in relation to the provision of health services. Data requirements are strengthened by the need for information on those with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment as set out in the Equality Act 2010. However, the request for data was not just confined to this section of the trans community as discrimination is not just limited to this population. The Gender identity topic report on the consultation findings provides further information.
As the data need was not clear, we said we would engage with stakeholders, including members of the trans community, to clarify the specific data required on gender identity and the concepts to be measured. We also identified further work to be undertaken on this topic, as outlined in our Gender identity research and testing plan.
5.4. Outcomes from the gender identity workshop
A gender identity workshop was held in August 2016, as the first stage of our stakeholder engagement. This workshop enabled us to gain further understanding and clarity around concepts, terminology and data requirements on gender identity. A full summary of discussions and findings from the Gender identity workshop is available.
The workshop revealed that many of the same challenges and difficulties of collecting gender identity information, as outlined in the position paper, still remain: privacy and acceptability; complexity; accuracy; terminology and the scope of information required.
We identified a clear need for data on gender identity: a reliable estimate of the population identifying as trans, and also for those covered by the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment”. Data about the trans population is needed for a variety of uses, including meeting requirements under the Equality Act 2010. It was clear that not all data needs can be met using one measure.
We found that there are a variety of terms used to self-identify a gender identity, trans or non-binary identity. The range of terminology and identities used is wide and complex, and workshop participants themselves acknowledged that it was difficult to give definitions. Terms are also contested, and people within the trans community have different personal preferences. We are aware that this is a dynamic and changing area, with new terms regularly introduced and outdated terms being replaced. We note that terminology has moved on since the publication of the position paper. In particular, the term transsexual is now outdated.
Collecting gender identity information is complex. There are difficulties in classifying identities, applying terms and capturing specific populations. For example, there are a variety of stages through which an individual may transition on their journey from one gender identity to another, and at which point they may be counted as reaching their chosen destination.
Matters of privacy and acceptability surround what information it is appropriate, or not appropriate, to ask respondents for. There are sensitivities around asking for detailed information, particularly from those who are transitioning from one gender to another. Individuals may not wish to declare the specifics of their identity, trans journey or status; essentially this was seen as private information. In addition, those who have legally changed their sex from that assigned at birth are not obliged to reveal their gender history. There are also issues around whether people would answer a question on gender identity correctly and the accuracy or quality of the information reported.
It is important for the respondent to feel that they have the opportunity to self-identify in the way they want to and feel comfortable in so doing, for any potential question on gender identity, including questions actually asking about sex.
Answering a question on sex can be difficult for those who do not identify with the binary categories of “male” and “female” and those who do not want to identify with their birth sex, as well as those who may be intersex (non- XX or XY chromosomes).
Respondent burden is also an important issue. Any question on gender identity, particularly on the census, would need to be understood and able to be answered by all respondents, regardless of whether a person held a trans identity or not. The number of questions required to collect data on gender identity also needs to be considered in terms of respondent burden.
5.5. Data collection and questions on gender identity worldwide
Both the Equality Data Review and the position paper concluded that research and collection of trans or gender identity data was limited at the time. The position paper noted that there were very few trans questions which had been developed. Of questions available, these were often grouped with sexual identity.
Another task detailed in the Gender identity research and testing plan was to look into the practice of other countries; to establish whether other national statistics agencies had either collected or were working towards collecting information on gender identity. We said we would seek to learn from their experiences. Whilst data on gender identity are still currently limited, data collection methodology for this topic is developing in many areas of the world.
We have also sought to identify any data collection or related work on gender identity being undertaken in the UK by other agencies.
UK – Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), gender identity questions
In 2011 the EHRC published the results of a study they had commissioned to develop and cognitively test new gender identity questions to be used for equality monitoring, which could be understood and answered by people who are transgender and non-transgender. The report Monitoring equality - Developing a gender identity question includes a recommended suite of 4 questions for capturing information on gender identity. The first 3 are required to identify the population with a transgender identity and within this the population with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. The fourth captures information on those meeting different parts of the definition associated with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.
Worldwide – other national statistics agencies
In 2011, Australia, India and Nepal are known to have allowed responses related to gender identity on their respective censuses, via a question on sex. In India1 and Nepal2, people could record a gender other than male or female on the respective censuses. For both countries the censuses were interviewer administered.
Only India has released data on the population that identified as other than male or female. Nepal and Australia did not produce outputs from their censuses on this population due to data quality and disclosure issues respectively.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) continued to allow respondents to report their sex as other than male or female for both paper and online forms in the 2016 Census. Guidance advised respondents how to complete this question if they wanted to report an identity other than male or female. For those completing the paper form, the instructions were to leave the “male” and “female” tick boxes unmarked, and to write their response to the right of this using the term they felt most comfortable with. (A separate individual paper form could be requested if required.) Those completing the question online were asked to call the Census Inquiry Service and ask for a separate login. ABS has stated that they will analyse the data received and publish an article on the number and characteristics of individuals who responded as other than male or female.
For their 2016 Census, Statistics Canada (STC) offered the option for transgender and non-binary people to skip the sex question by leaving it blank. They could indicate why they had left the question unanswered in the comments section at the end of the questionnaire. STC has made a public commitment to analyse the comments and to release a report later in 2017.
In preparation for their next census in 2021, STC are reviewing the “sex” standard, to clarify whether the sex variable should be sex at birth. They are also exploring options for collecting gender identity explicitly, in addition to information on sex. A “two-step approach” of asking about both sex at birth (as detailed on original birth certificate) and current gender identity is being tested. For the gender identity question, as well as providing the response options for “male” or “female”, alternative options for reporting a trans or non-binary identity are being tested.
In the lead-up to the 2013 Census in New Zealand, an online campaign – two ticks for sex – was launched, which asked respondents to show their dissatisfaction with the sex question by ticking both “male” and “female” response options on the census questionnaire. The campaign received support from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) online communities and gained some mainstream media coverage. Statistics New Zealand (Statistics NZ) stated in their Preliminary view of 2018 Census content (2015) that they would review the categories offered in response to their sex question on the 2018 Census. They note that some people are born biologically intersex and some people make transitions. They are aware that although this group is small, currently they cannot represent their biological sex in this question as there are just the 2 categories of “male” and “female”.
Statistics NZ will further explore and test the implications of collecting information on those who are biologically intersex. In relation to this, they will also consider the quality and comparability of the sex data from the census, including respondent understanding and any false responses which may be elicited. Statistics NZ note that, to date, no other country has included an intersex option in their national census.
Of the 47 countries in Europe that have ratified the European Convention of Human Rights, none collect information on gender identity in their censuses. The Conference of European Statisticians Recommendations for the 2020 Censuses of Population and Housing, published in 2015, acknowledges that some countries may wish to start to collect information on gender identity through censuses and recommend that rigorous testing should be undertaken before doing so. The report also highlighted disclosure risks as numbers are likely to be small and suggested that information should not be collected if it cannot be published.
Following on from this, we note the recent changes in legislation in Denmark, Malta and Ireland allowing transgender people aged over 18 to change their legal gender without intervention. For example, Ireland introduced the Gender Recognition Act in July 2015. This Act allows individuals over the age of 18 to achieve full legal recognition of their preferred gender by self declaration, so without medical or state intervention. It allows for the acquisition of a new birth certificate that reflects this change. Self-declaration will also be accepted for updating passports, driving licences and getting married. Young people aged 16 to 17 can also apply to be legally recognised, though there is a little more to the process than for their older counterparts. It is not yet clear whether or how this new legislation will translate into a user need or data collection exercise for official statistics. Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) is planning a full public consultation on the questions to be asked in advance of their next census in 2021, and will take into account any relevant legislation.
We will continue to keep up to date with work on gender identity being carried out by other national statistics agencies, and seek to learn from their experiences. We will collaborate with other countries identified as taking forward work on gender identity.
Notes for: What's new
The Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner is responsible for conducting a census in India. Census webpage.
The Central Bureau of Statistics is responsible for conducting a census in Nepal.
6. Next steps
We will produce a further update to the position paper in Autumn 2017. This will consider whether the evidence that led to our published position still remains valid. It will also consider whether there is additional evidence that should be taken into account or research that should be undertaken. Findings from our research and testing will be included.
The next steps for further work, research and testing which we are undertaking on gender identity are outlined in sections 6.1 to 6.4.
6.1. Public acceptability testing
We are aware that there are public acceptability concerns linked to the sensitivity of the topic of gender identity. As a result, we have commissioned an independent research company to carry out research into the public acceptability of asking a gender identity question on the 2021 Census. This research is being undertaken in collaboration with the National Records of Scotland (NRS) who are responsible for conducting a census in Scotland and the Northern Ireland Research and Statistics Agency (NISRA), who are responsible for Northern Ireland’s census.
A survey has been developed to collect the public’s views around completing a question which asks about gender identity on the census. During January and February 2017, a sample of approximately 26,500 households across the UK (selected at random from a list of postcodes), are being contacted and invited to complete the survey online.
Public acceptability is one of the main criteria that will be used to inform the decision on whether or not a question on gender identity will be included on the 2021 Census.
6.2. Qualitative research and testing
By undertaking qualitative research we will explore gender identity in more depth, the concepts and terminology, and the related challenges and difficulties in collecting this information, particularly via a household survey. Focus groups and cognitive interviews will be carried out with the general public, including those who hold a trans identity.
Focus groups bring people together to explore their attitudes, opinions and discourses about a given topic, under the direction of a moderator. Interaction between participants can facilitate and elicit responses which may not have arisen using other methods.
Cognitive interviews are an internationally recognised method for pre-testing questions or questionnaires. A cognitive interview is a one-to-one method, where the respondent completes the question or questionnaire observed by the interviewer. By using various techniques (such as paraphrasing, think-aloud, concurrent and retrospective probing) the interviewer can explore, understand and explain the ways in which the respondent answers the question(s) and ascertain whether or not a question is working as intended. The method can provide insight into the cause of a problem, and also help to identify possible solutions.
Through qualitative research we will explore and gain further understanding about the following:
terminology and concepts
the design and development of a gender identity question or questions to collect data which meets user requirements and also respondent requirements; currently there is no national harmonised standard question
the number of questions required to collect data on gender identity
respondent burden around collecting information on gender identity
the respondent requirement to self-identify in the way they want to and feel comfortable in so doing for questions about gender identity and sex
issues of privacy and acceptability
the quality and accuracy of information reported
public understandings of sex and gender and the relationship between them
the difficulties facing those who do not identify with the binary categories of “male” and “female”, those who do not want to identify with their birth sex, as well as those who may be intersex (non- XX or XY chromosomes) in answering a question on sex
public understandings of, and responses to, the sex question, particularly where the sex question is asked without a gender question
any other relevant factors we need to be aware of or consider around gender identity and the collection of data on this topic
6.3. Further stakeholder engagement
We will continue to engage with stakeholders, data users and members of the trans community to further clarify concepts and terminology, and identify specific needs for data on the trans population, gender reassignment and sex.
In understanding user needs, we will acknowledge the legal framework and methodological constraints of collecting gender identity information via a household survey.
6.4. Alternative options for meeting data requirements
A further task included in the Gender identity research and testing plan is to identify alternative options for meeting the user requirement for data on this topic. The position paper also recommended an exploration of alternative measures, including attitude surveys, administrative data and specialist surveys.
Work is in progress to identify alternative options, starting with exploring administrative data. Our current focus is on vital statistics and registration data and understanding more about what information these data provide about sex and/or gender and how these are recorded. We are also collaborating with various government departments to identify other relevant data sources.
We will keep in mind the coverage of the population, quality of data collected and public acceptability in considering alternative options for meeting the user need.Back to table of contents
Since the publication of the Trans Data Position Paper in 2009 the trans community, trans identities and gender identity matters have become more visible in society, not just in England and Wales but in many countries around the world.
This report has provided an update to the position paper, outlining changes and progress around the topic of gender identity.
We have covered legislation, the Women and Equalities Committee Transgender Equality inquiry, data collection and question development worldwide, along with details of our research, testing and findings so far.
Whilst we have identified a need for gender identity data, the workshop revealed that many of the same challenges and difficulties in collecting this information still remain.
We have set out the next steps and future work we are undertaking on this topic. This includes: public acceptability testing; qualitative research and testing; further stakeholder engagement; and exploring alternative options for meeting data requirements.
The research and testing we are carrying out will inform our position on this topic and determine whether, and how best, to meet user needs for information on gender identity. Findings will inform a recommendation of how we take forward this work across our organisation.
A further update will be published in Autumn 2017.Back to table of contents
Defined by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in Monitoring Equality: Developing a gender identity question as the way in which an individual identifies with a gender category. This is based on an individual’s own perception of themselves and as such the gender category with which a person identifies may not match the sex they were assigned at birth. In contrast, sex is biologically determined.
Transgender, trans or trans*
Umbrella terms (rather than a specific identity), used to describe those whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth. Trans identities can take a number of forms.
An umbrella term for those who do not identify as male or female, or who may identity with aspects of both male and female.Back to table of contents