The End Of Our Most Cherished Binary Question

We love our binary questions – for example, the simple ‘yes/no’ or ‘true/false’ answer.

Brand image questions can be made more user friendly through a set of binary questions, e.g. ‘Which of these statements do you associate with this brand’ (yes/no) as opposed to ‘On a scale of 1–10, how much do you associate these statements with this brand?’

Furthermore, scalar questions are somewhat subjective, e.g. a 5 out of 10 is ‘average’ for one person whereas it can be a ‘fail’ for others. This can be addressed through semantic scales, e.g. On a scale of 1-5, how much do you like this brand? (1=dislike a lot, 2=dislike a bit, 3=neither like nor dislike, 4=like a bit, 5=like a lot).

However, the new generation of consumers is growing up with shorter attention spans and is more conditioned by binary answers through social media, e.g. YouTube’s ‘I like this’ and ‘I dislike this’. Hence the scalar question is often being replaced by more simplistic binary questions about whether you like or dislike a product, concept, campaign, etc.

But recently we have seen perhaps the most common binary question in our consumer surveys coming under scrutiny: that is, whether you are ‘male’ or ‘female’. This has been a common classification found in societies, ranging from gender classification in application forms to the construction of public conveniences.

The debate around gender neutrality and transgenderism is now impacting the MR industry ahead of at least the provision of public conveniences.

What has been observed so far is a change from the male/female response to gender questions to multiple options for those insistent on their gender neutrality. One survey we saw included the options ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘rather not say’, and ‘prefer another term’. Another approach, which might cater for those who are transitioning, is ‘How male or female are you on this scale?’ ‘Entirely male’, ‘mostly male’, ‘in between’, ‘mostly female’, ‘entirely female’.

While this might seem like a trivial matter, male/female data impacts on weighting specifications and market sizing. The rather unknown segment of the market who would ‘prefer another term’ will need its own weight, and it could be even more challenging to have quota controls by this.
But often these things are overblown – in a recent global survey where these multiple options were given, we found that only 2% ‘would rather not disclose’ their gender. This is a small proportion given that this is personal information, and probably lower than those who would not disclose their age. And only 0.3% of the survey respondents ‘preferred another term’ (only found in North America, at 0.6% of the survey).

Perhaps the biggest issue is whether the perceived need to cater for gender neutrality in surveys will one day prohibit the reporting of differences by gender as not being politically correct.