Demographic Survey Questions
With rare exceptions, every survey contains demographic questions. However, since this information block is placed at the very end, it does not receive nearly as much attention as it deserves. In this article, we will discuss how to ask demographic questions to collect accurate and comprehensive data.
What Is Demographic Information?
In order to create respondent profiles, the block of demographic questions has to cover a variety of parameters — from gender to lifestyle. Based on these data, marketing experts segment the audience to better understand the current state of the market and to forecast its possible transformations.
When developing a new product, marketing specialists focus on the group of consumers with specific characteristics who are the most likely to make a purchase. The profile of the target audience dictates a style and channels of communication, sales tactics, and a customer service format. The better the company knows its clients, the more in-demand products and services it can offer to them.
Social scientists do not recommend that demographic questions be put at the beginning of a survey, as people are not eager to share personal information. It is better to first build trust and collect data on a research subject, and only then move to personal data.
Let’s take a closer look at how to ask standard demographic questions to collect accurate and comprehensive data on the target audience:
- Place of residence
- Marital status
In today’s world, gender has become a more nuanced, sensitive subject. Therefore, it is unwise to underestimate this seemingly simple question. The survey should not give respondents the impression that they or their behavior does not meet public expectations.
When inquiring about this parameter, it is better to use the word “gender” instead of “sex”. Sex refers to the biological attributes of men, women and intersex people that determine their reproductive anatomy. Gender, on the other hand, is socially constructed characteristics of people — their behavior in accordance with the roles the society assigned to men and women. So, by using “gender”, the researcher shows respect to the respondents’ right to choose their identity.
Nowadays, people have many new words to describe their gender. For instance, Facebook profile settings offer 71 (!) gender identity options to the users. Such an extensive list will look out of place in a survey, so the less common genders can be grouped under “Other”.
It is considered good form to also include the option “Prefer not to answer”, so that respondents have a sense of control over how much personal information they provide.
Please specify your gender.
- Prefer not to answer
Respondents are asked about their age in almost every marketing research, since most brands segment their clients based on age or create dedicated products for specific age groups.
There are several ways to ask the age: you can ask respondents to indicate their date of birth, age in years, or their age bracket. As a rule, respondents are reluctant to share personal information in marketing surveys, so researchers usually opt for age brackets. The lower and upper range limits may be tied to the age of majority and retirement respectively, or other milestones that are important to the target audience.
Please indicate your date of birth (mm.dd.yyyy): _____
How old are you?
Please indicate your age group:
- Prefer not to answer
Place of Residence
The client’s location can be of significance for several reasons. For a local brand, it is important to know how far away their clients live to determine their delivery radius or choose a spot for a new outlet. Federal brands segment clients based on regions, since companies in different cities may offer different product mixes. International Internet companies need to know who is interested in their services in order to tailor their communication and services to cultural and economic realities of different countries.
In general, residents of megacities lead a different lifestyle from residents of smaller cities and towns. For this reason, researchers are often interested not in the specific city of residence, but in its population size.
What is the population of your town or city?
- Up to 50,000 people
- 50,000–100,000 people
- 100,000–500,000 people
- 500,000–1,000,000 people
- More than 1,000,000 people
Additionally, a question about the respondents’ location may serve as a filter question to limit survey participation only to those candidates that represent the target audience of a regional brand.
For religious people, questions about faith might be a touchy subject. That is why researchers prefer not to bring it up unless absolutely necessary. However, for the purposes of marketing certain products associated with religious practices, this information can be critical. For example, McDonald’s faced calls for a boycott from Hindu nationalists in India after the fast food giant had announced it used halal meat in outlets across the country.
What is your religion?
- Prefer not to say
For many companies that offer sophisticated products or services, the educational background of their clients is of key importance. What’s more, this information allows you to adapt your key messages and arguments to different audience segments.
To compile a comprehensive list of hints, refer to official statistical data. It will tell you which educational statuses need their own categories, and which ones can be grouped into one (due to their low numbers).
What is the highest degree or level of education you have completed?
- Some high school
- High school
- Trade school
- Some college
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- 2+ college degrees, Ph.D. or higher
Unlike young singles who are free to spend their money at their discretion, families usually make collective financial decisions. A decision making process may involve:
- Initiator — suggests the purchase,
- Influencer — consciously or inadvertently influences the decision by suggesting a particular brand or specific product features,
- Decision-maker — decides on appropriate family expenditures,
- Buyer — makes the purchase,
- User — actually uses the purchased product.
Because of this, companies that sell “family goods” want to know how many people are involved in product selection and who makes the final decision.
Please indicate your marital status:
- Single (never married)
- In a domestic partnership
How many people live in your household (including yourself)?
Do you have children? How many children under the age of 18 live in your household?
Marketing experts certainly would love to have precise figures on the yearly income of respondents or households. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to collect this type of information through surveys. Not every respondent is willing to disclose their real earnings. Moreover, a respondent may have several sources of income, and the total monthly figures may vary. That would make it difficult to calculate a monthly average.
As a fail-safe measure, you can ask respondents to indicate their current employment status, and then ask those employed about their occupation. Based on this information, you can calculate their average income using the average industry wage data from official sources.
What is your current employment status?
- Employed full-time
- Employed part-time
- Business owner
- Self-employed, freelance
- On maternity/paternity leave
- Unemployed (currently looking for work)
- Unemployed (not currently looking for work)
Income level is one of the key data elements for calculating consumer purchasing power. With this information, you can set prices or create new products for your most profitable customer segments. Most respondents are not too eager to discuss how much they earn, so the best strategy is to ask them to indicate an income bracket, instead of a specific number, or ask them to rate their material well-being.
Please indicate your annual income:
- Less than $20,000
- More than $80,000
- Prefer not to say
Please rate your material well-being:
- Very good
- Very bad
- Do not know / No answer
A Few Tips on How to Create Demographic Questions
You should cover all possible answers to a question, but their number should be reasonable. Less popular hints can be grouped under “Other”. No need to leave blank space for manual input next to this option, as the data collected this way rarely serve any practical purpose.
The wording of questions should be specific and exact. Do not use clichés and abstract words (“many”, “few”, “often”, “rarely”, “normally”). Do not ask several questions or put several conditions in one.
Try to keep the questions short. If you want to give respondents some context or clues, include a preamble to the question.
Do not use special jargon, abbreviations or acronyms, as they might be interpreted incorrectly or stand for different things. If you cannot do without them, include an explanation or a comment to the question. A survey should not make respondents feel incompetent.
Make sure that questions do not threaten respondents’ honor and dignity. No part of the survey should offend, embarrass or repulse, especially when it comes to topics of race, nationality and religion.
Phrase questions in non-judgmental ways as not to give respondents the impression that there is a socially acceptable answer.
Intervals of values in hints should not overlap. Make sure that each hint is unique and does not incorporate values of neighboring hints.
The “Do not know / No answer” option is a sign of respect towards respondents and leaves them room to refrain from answering. This is especially important when we ask respondents to share personal information. If too many respondents choose this option, this likely indicates that a question or hints have been phrased incorrectly or the answer is frowned upon.
Check the integrity of answers with control questions. For instance, you can verify answers to the annual income question by additionally asking respondents about their employment status and field of work. Based on this information, you can calculate their average income using the average industry wage data from official statistics.
Try to strike a balance between data completeness and length of the survey. The longer it takes to complete a survey, the less accurate the answers will be because respondents tend to lose their concentration. If it takes more than 12–14 minutes, offer respondents a small bonus (promo code, free delivery or consultation). That way you can improve the quality of collected data and increase brand loyalty of respondents.
Test the survey. Read it out loud and edit out all unnecessary words that add no new meaning. Make wordings clear and correct. Make sure that your questions match the cultural level of the target audience. Hand out several copies of the survey to colleagues and acquaintances and ask them for verbal feedback. Take note of all instances of misinterpretation or ambiguity and refine the survey.