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A question on gender identity won't be in Census 2022 - but may be in future ones

British citizens will be asked about their gender identity for the first time, the country’s national statistician said on Friday.

THE CENTRAL STATISTICS Office has confirmed that Census 2022 won’t include a question about citizens’ gender identity, but research is being carried out into including the question in subsequent ones.

Ireland’s census form has included a question on the form that asks about people’s sex. The options are ‘male’ or ‘female’.

A question on people’s gender would give transgender and non-binary people the option to include what gender they identify as on their census form.

In short, ‘sex’ refers to a person’s biological anatomy and reproductive organs. ‘Gender’ can refer to socially-constructed roles and behaviours people have which are loosely based on what ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ have traditionally meant. Gender identity refers to a person’s sense of their own gender.

This year, British citizens are to be asked about their gender identity in their national censuses, but there will be no penalties for those who choose not to answer.

The next Irish census had been due to be held this year, but has been postponed until 3 April next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In England and Wales, a census is being held on 21 March, mostly online, and will ask people about their gender identity for the first time. Scotland has also postponed its census until next year, while Northern Ireland will hold its census on 21 March – but won’t ask its citizens to clarify their gender.

“We will be asking for the first time a voluntary question later in the questionnaire about gender identity,” the UK’s National Statistician Prof Sir Ian Diamond said, adding that this will only apply to people over 16.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics published a recommended question which asks whether a person’s gender identity is the same as their legal sex, and if not, asks them to enter what it is.

It said that the information is needed because “there are currently no official figures for those who identify their gender as different from the sex registered at birth”.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the CSO said that it is cognisant of “the growing demand for more information on the area of gender identity”, and is taking steps to prepare for inclusion of the topic in future censuses.

After a recommendation was made that the 2016 question should be kept while further information and research is done, the CSO said that it informed stakeholders and interest groups about what would be included in Census 2022. 

These included BeLonGTo, TENI and the Hate and Hostility Research Group.

A spokesperson said: “The necessity to ensure that a new question is adequately tested and assessed before inclusion in a census form meant that there was no scope to have this completed in time for the current census preparations.

“Government approval on content was granted in July 2019, and immediately following form layout, design and printing was underway. It is hoped that as a result of further examination of the topic in smaller surveys, the CSO will have a much more informed position from which to assess a new question on gender identity in the 2026 Census.”

Public consultation and recommendations

A public consultation requesting submissions on what should be included as a question in Census 2022 was carried out from October to November 2017.

All submissions received were examined by the specially formed Census Advisory Group (CAG). The group comprised of appointees representing government departments, agencies, research bodies, social partners and was managed by the CSO.

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The group’s purpose was to decide the content of the forms in Census 2022, but first it made recommendations on which submissions should be tested in the 2018 pilot.

The recommendation agreed by the CAG was that the ‘sex’ question used by CSO in Census 2016 would be kept for the next census, but that an “expanded gender identity question” would be tested in CSO’s household surveys before possible inclusion in future censuses.

The household surveys are held three or four times a year and are on a particular topic. 

Up to this point, the CSO had no experience in collecting data on gender identity.

A spokesperson said that the CSO census office engaged with interest groups for the purpose of informing them that the biological sex question would remain, as well as seeking their “views on advice, within these constraints, as to what can be suggested to people filling out the form who do not feel that either category correctly reflects their gender identity”.

The CSO sought input from stakeholders on how to progress the incorporation of an expanded gender identity question in CSO’s household surveys. Initial testing on question formats was included in the Equality and Discrimination module of the General Household Survey held in Q1 of 2019

The achieved sample size for the Q1 2019 survey was 3,971 respondents.

In these cases, the CSO said that it should be noted that a national sample of this size can be “insufficient” to report any meaningful data on minority groups. The CSO said that it plans to test the topic in further surveys in the coming year.

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