Which demographic data to collect in surveys
Naturally, not every survey ought to contain all conceivable demographic questions. The process of selecting and writing demographic questions is always strongly case-dependent and should be chosen based on research strategy and goals. Hence, make sure to explicitly define the purpose of your data acquisition beforehand and you will be on the right track.
Nevertheless, a certain basic set of demographic data will always be helpful in segmenting survey research data in order to get to know your main prospects or customers.
What is your age?
The art of asking about a respondent’s age is balancing the level of data detail as well as avoiding survey fatigue, i.e. grouping individual ages to ranges leads to lesser answer options, improves readability and possibly lowers response fatigue.
How finely you choose to distinguish between age groups ought to be tested for comparison of response rates.
It’s important to work with single choice question format such as a radio list question type as these answer options need to be mutually exclusive. Also make sure that your age ranges don’t overlap, otherwise your data evaluation will give you a hard time.
Here’s an example of how you could structure the question:
o Under 18 years old
o 18 – 24 years old
o 25 – 34 years old
o 35 – 44 years old
o 45 – 54 years old
o 55 – 64 years old
o 65 – 74 years old
o 75+ years old
What is your gender?
Asking about somebody’s gender has become an increasingly sensitive topic as apart from male and female gender attribution, multiple alternative gender descriptions have arisen in the previous years that have been recognised as official gender statements.
LimeSurvey offers a prebuilt button style or radio list gender question type. It however only includes male and female as answer options so far. If additional gender options are to be included, a simply radio list question type will do. Also, a simply open-ended question type can be selected to give respondents the ultimate freedom in adding their gender identification.
Here’s a preview of LimeSurvey’s prebuilt gender question:
What is your marital status?
Learning about respondents’ marital status is often one of the less important demographic questions as most business are not positioned in a manner that this segmentation will deliver extraordinary value.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of benefits of gaining information from this data, especially as it is a fairly straightforward question. It makes sense to enable multiple choice question types in this case as a combination of answer options is thinkable, e.g. somebody who is single can also be separated from a meaningful previous relationship.
See this question example about how to ask for marital status:
Married or domestic partnership
How would you specify your ethnicity?
Questions about ethnicity, race or origin are highly sensitive in nature due to conflicts and crises that have shaped society through past events and prejudices.
Nevertheless, the data derived from this question is popular to segment survey responses in order to derive trend patterns with regard to cultural impact.
As this is not a mere aspect of documentation, but also based on belief systems and emotional identification, you ought to use a multiple choice question type to ensure respondents may choose multiple options depending on their identification.
This example could be used as a template for the question:
Hispanic or Latino
What is the highest educational degree you have completed?
Receiving data on respondent’s qualifications is a great way to analyse educational impact on answers given in your survey.
All you have to make sure here is to provide a complete and distinct list of qualification levels to include any person’s possible situation. Usually, answer options involving degrees can be thought of as mutually exclusive as they build on each other in a hierarchical structure when asking about specifying the highest qualification, so you ought to use a radio list question type here.
o Less than high school or secondary school degree
o High school or secondary school degree
o Bachelor's degree
o Master's degree or diploma
What is your annual mean gross household income?
Similar to the age question presented above, income questions can face the problem of survey fatigue depending on how detailed and thus how many answer options are presented at once. Categorising income in ranges will again help reduce the available options and make it more transparent.
Make sure to use a currency that is fairly widespread globally to improve comprehensibility and comparability of answer options, e.g. U.S. dollars or EURO.
As money is always a sensitive topic, it is recommended if you are not in desperate need of this data, to make the income question a voluntary one as many people don’t like giving information on their personal finances.
o Less than €30.000
o €30.000 to €49.999
o €50.000 to €69.999
o €70.000 to €89.999
o €90.000 to €99.999
o €100.000 or more
What is your current employment status?
If you are questioning a wide variety of different people, getting information on their employment status can be very interesting and valuable.
The difficulty with this question however is to provide all possible occupational activities. Naming a few common ones and offering an Other option however ought to solve the problem. Make sure to use a multiple choice question here since people can have different occupational situations at the same time, e.g. a student can at the same time be part time employed or even self-employed.
Employed full time (40 or more hours per week)
Employed part time (up to 39 hours per week)
Unable to work
Which industry branch do you work in?
This is an optional one and obviously will only be relevant if the aforementioned question was answered with a full time, part time or self-employment response.
This is also a tricky one as you may use a single or multiple choice question type and deliver massive amounts of different industries that exist which may lead to survey fatigue or simply offer an open-text question which will ultimately make an evaluation very extensive.
A great approach here would be to create a question that works with search recognition, a hybrid of the aforementioned options in a manner that it lets the respondent start typing in an open-text field and based on this offers predefined answer options that will standardise the results to be evaluated later on. This however will require coding expertise.
Leverage the value that demographic data can deliver
The key to maximum benefit from demographic data is contingent upon two aspects:
Firstly, you need to align your questions with your research goals and strategy by choosing the necessary demographic questions and phrasing them in a way that they are appropriate and meaningful.
Secondly, you need to make sure to not overload your respondents with demographic questions at the same time, so you have to find a middle path of getting enough data for your research requirements and not too many questions to repel your respondents.