There is a strong belief that gender identity can be used to predict behavior in the marketplace, and we see evidence of this belief in advertising every day (and we also regularly poke fun at this idea - see the video below). Despite this, the standard approach to collecting information about gender and behavior often lacks the depth and complexity necessary to reach the meaningful insights around gender identity. How can we fix this? One way forward is to incorporate social science into our questionnaire design.
There’s a large body of evidence from social science research that indicates social identities, like gender, can have concrete economic implications for people belonging to certain groups. Gender is not only an expression of individual identity, but is also negotiated on a group level as we practice and enforce patterns of hierarchical social, political, and economic relationships (including work and family life). So, while one woman’s social, political, and/or economic profiles may deviate from the profiles of women as a group, she’s still subject to the systematic opportunities and barriers that these group profiles represent.
At CMB, we often leverage social science in questionnaire design to elicit responses that most closely reflect the market. As an industry, we could (and should) go further in the way we collect demographic information. For example, respondents are typically allowed to select only one employment status from a list of several options: employed part time, employed full time, full time homemaker, full time student, retired, or unemployed. From the social science perspective, this question is problematic because it ignores the fact that respondents may fall into more than one category and that women are more likely than men to experience overlap in these categories in their lifetime. A question like this might produce compromised data, particularly for respondents who are young, female, and/or low-income. Another example is marital status: is the marketplace behavior of a same-sex unmarried couple categorically different than that of a couple in a traditional marriage? Depending on the industry, the answer may vary, but with a few easy questionnaire tweaks, we can capture that information.
From segmentation to optimization, demographic information is often a critical part of the analyses that solve our clients’ business challenges. But our answers to their problems are only as good as the questions our surveys are asking. Revisiting demographic collection is an easy update that goes a long way towards generating higher quality data, making better evidence-based recommendations, and pushing businesses forward.
Eliza Novick is an Associate Researcher at CMB. Her favorite Boston attraction is the New England Aquarium, particularly the Edge of the Sea exhibit where you can pick up clams and starfish.
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