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Make asking demographic survey questions less awkward

Asking for demographic information, it's not the most fun thing to do. But let's learn how to make a demographic survey that gets the answers you need with minimal casualties—let's get less awkward and more conversational.

What are demographic survey questions?

Demographic survey questions are used to find out more personal information from survey-takers. Most demographic questions ask details about age, gender, professions, incomes, education level, and ethnicity.

But being put into boxes and endless excel sheets is not the nicest feeling. So it’s no surprise that people often ditch demographic surveys quickly. Often it’s right after the first question that asks for something personal like their annual income—which in some countries is as rude as insulting their mother.

So how do you create demographic questions that everyone feels comfortable answering? You don’t want to leave anyone thinking, “how dare they ask me that?”

When to include demographic questions

If you’re a restaurant manager wondering how to tweak a crème brûlée recipe, maybe it doesn’t matter if it was a 40-year old marketer or a 14-year old student who said they loved it.

However, if you’re the Head of HR and want to find out the age or gender balance of the office, it might be a good idea to dig a little.

So before you start asking for potentially sensitive information, ask yourself: do I really need this information, or am I just including it because that’s what forms and surveys normally do?

Five examples of demographic survey questions

Write types of questions that give options for everyone.

Keep the quizzing to a minimum and stick to what’s expected. Don’t be like your nosy neighbor Carl. We’re gonna talk you through some common demographic question examples including:

  1. How to ask for somebody’s age

  2. How to ask about gender

  3. Asking about marital status

  4. Asking about household income

  5. How to ask about ethnicity

  1. 1
    How to ask about age in a survey—"You don't look a day over 30"

    Some numbers are uncomfortable to ask for. The phone number of the hottie at the bar is one—and age is another. So how do you knock this tricky demographic question out of the park?

    One way is to use a multiple choice question with different age ranges (15-20, 21-25, 26-30) instead of leaving them with that awkward blank space.

    But beware—make sure that your age categories don’t overlap, like including the number 30 in both 26-30, and 30-35. Or people get annoyed and click the X button. Oh, and your data will be completely skewed for anyone on the borderline of age ranges.

    So why is age so important to ask? Can’t you just leave it out? By finding out the age demographic of the people who took your survey, you can also discover a correlation between age and opinions. Use what you learn in your marketing or product design. For example:

    Katie is somewhere between “21-25”. She eats out once a week and spends most of her free time on Instagram looking at brunch bloggers—a classic millennial. You start to see that this is a trend with the younger demographic who took your survey.

    What can you learn from this?

    You learn that people aged 21-25 are likely to eat out often. And this makes your search engine wizards happy because they can plan targeting better. And it helps finance and marketing too because you’ll save money and reach a better-quality audience through Instagram targeting.

  2. 2
    How to ask for gender in surveys—"Jack or Jackie?

    First up, do you really need to know gender, or are you just doing it out of habit? Cause if you get this question wrong, your survey completion rate will go down the pan.

    There are a few ways you can ask about gender—depending on what you want to do with this information later and how many people you are looking to survey.

    The simplest way to do this is just to ask, “Gender?”, and allow people to self-describe.

    With bigger sample sizes, present people with a drop-down answer selection.

    But always make sure to give people the option to self-describe for gender questions in your survey.

  3. 3
    Marital status survey questions—"I do?"

    Have a big think about whether this needs to be one of your demographic questions.

    Is it 100% relevant for you to know whether someone is married, in a domestic partnership, or using Tinder?

    When in doubt, cut it out.

    Still determined to ask this question? Give people the main options. Done.

  4. 4
    Asking for income in a survey—"Hey there, how much do you earn?"

    Let’s talk about cash.

    If you want to ask how much money people make, you can do it with a lot more tact in a few different ways.

    Try asking these three questions which have a selection of answer options to ease the blow:

     1. Hey, Tom! What’s your highest level of education?

    • No formal education

    • High school diploma

    • College degree

    • Vocational training

    • Bachelor’s degree

    • Master’s degree

    • Professional degree

    • Doctorate degree

    • Other

    Tom says he has a PhD—clever cookie. Maybe it was the educational demographic—and not the income demographic you considered—that was relevant here.

    You can compare his results with those who have a high-school diploma and see if there are any trends in opinion or behavior. And with this more sensitive phrasing, you dodged half the bullet.

    This question isn’t the best for working out how much people earn if that really is the demographic you’re looking for—but it’s great for working out correlations.

    Maybe Tom is more likely to buy your new fresh fruit yogurt? Whereas his students are all about the latest soy shake you’ve launched #healthkick

     2. Hi there, Natalie! What’s your work status?

    • Employed

    • Self-employed/Freelance

    • Interning

    • Part-time

    • Unemployed- Looking for work

    • Unemployed – Not looking for work

    • Homemaker

    • Studying

    • Military/Forces

    • Retired

    • Not able to work

    • Other

    Natalie’s employed full time. She’s got a salary, and probably some disposable income. But we can’t assume how much she has.

     3. What’s up, Lewis. Can you tell us your household income?

    • Under $20,000

    • $20,001 – $40,000

    • $40,001 – $60,000

    • $60,001 – $80,000

    • $80,001 – $100,000

    • $100,001 or over

    Asking about household income allows Lewis to give you the juice without feeling like you’re snooping on his dolla—and you can make some rich conclusions for your demographic survey responses. Don’t get too excited now.

  5. 5
    Asking ethnicity survey questions—"But where are you really from?"

    Learning about somebody’s ethnicity can be really important in your demographic survey. Your background can affect your opinion on certain topics, which can be super interesting for us survey makers. But it’s a touchy topic to cover.

    We’ve all wondered at some point—”what’s the difference between race and ethnicity?”

    Quite a lot. When we talk about race, we mean certain specifics. Race concerns your physical traits.

    Now ethnicity is another thing. Ethnicity concerns your cultural upbringing and everything which comes with that.

    To find out someone’s ethnicity, first up ask:

    Are you of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?

    If they say “yes” (and you’re using Typeform), add a Logic Jump and move onto the next question. If they say no, ask them:

    How do you describe your ethnicity?

    • Native American Indian or Alaska Native

    • Asian

    • Black or African American

    • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

    • White

    • Unknown

    • Other/Prefer to self-describe

    • Don’t wish to answer

What to do next with your list of demographic characteristics

You’ve sent out your demographic survey questions—nice job.

That’s not the end of this story though. Asking is the easy part, now you have to try and find some trends in the answers.

Do Baby Boomers rate your product more than Millennials? Are part-timers more or less likely to use your app on Wednesdays?

You can even cross-tabulate and discover that men over the age of 25 are your biggest fans. And that’s gonna cut your ad spend.

Conversational demographic survey questions

So this article was all about making awkward questions, well, less awkward.

Asking these questions will make your survey smoother, but to really make your demographic survey more conversational, you need to be appropriate—just like in a real conversation.

Don’t ask a sophomore student for their household income. They probably don’t know.

Do ask a recent college graduate their work status. You can find out how they’re doing in the big, bad world.

Don’t ask your grocery customers for their marital status. What does that have to do with how much they like bananas?

It’s possible to ask demographic questions in a chatty way—so don’t be afraid to ask.

Just ask in the right way.