|Jennifer L. Hughes, PhD, Agnes Scott College (GA)
May 15, 2017
Do you know how to be all-inclusive when referring to an individual’s gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, education level, and location?
Last fall, Dr. Jennifer L. Hughes, Abigail A. Camden, and Tenzin Yangchen published an invited editorial in Psi Chi Journal called, “Rethinking and Updating Demographic Questions: Guidance to Improve Descriptions of Research Samples.” Their editorial provides 18 examples of how to correctly phrase demographics questions in research studies.
In today’s behind-the-scenes post, Dr. Hughes discusses how using all-inclusive terminology is important for all individuals, both researchers and nonresearchers alike.
What is the importance of using all-inclusive language?
In our editorial, we encourage authors to rethink and update the demographic questions they use in their research surveys. We argue that this is important for ethical and professional reasons (i.e., inclusion and advancing diversity) and also for research integrity purposes (i.e., accurately describing samples for the purposes of clarity, which impacts generalization of findings and possible replication of findings).
In the editorial, we give information about the five most commonly used demographic questions in survey research (i.e., gender identity, age, ethnicity and race, education, and location) and other additional demographic questions often found in research (i.e., questions about children, disability, employment, relationship status, religion, sexual orientation, and social class). We list questions and answer choices that we selected after reviewing the research literature, and we include our additional, more inclusive answer choices and coding categories.
How long have you been interested in this topic?
I became interested in this topic while in graduate school 20 years ago. When I began writing demographic questions for researchers surveys, I looked for a source that listed example demographic questions. I found very few sources, and they were not much help because they did not provide an explanation of why the wording and response options had been selected.
During the past 10 years, I began teaching courses about human sexuality and the psychology of gender. This made me realize that many of the demographic questions that are used for sexuality and gender are not representative of the diversity currently recognized by researchers in those fields. In addition, my research on dual-income couples prompted me to think about demographic questions related to couples, children, and work. I found little consistency with what authors were doing in that field of research.
What surprises did you find while researching this topic?
We were surprised to find so little research literature on this topic. Much of the literature was outdated and did not represent terminology recommended by the American Psychological Association.
What could individuals who are not researchers learn from your editorial?
People who do not conduct research probably have not thought much about the demographic questions they answer for research surveys. We recommend that much thought be given to the demographic questions used in surveys. Individuals who are not researchers may also learn new terminology that is used in our article. This knowledge can provide a starting point for dialogue around diversity issues, which could lead to a better understanding and application of these terms.
What advice do you have for individuals wanting to learn more?
The reference section of our editorial provides authors with good sources of information about this topic. The American Psychological Association is also a good place to go for current topics about diversity.
View their full Journal editorial.