11 Demographic Survey Questions You Must NEVER Ask in a Survey

Formplus Blog By Formplus Blog on 9 min read

Demographic surveys are one of the trickiest surveys to conduct for any population size. Many see it as an “invasion of privacy” because it asks questions about their personal lives which they might be reluctant to release, especially in today’s era of spyware, privacy breaches and data fraud.

Does your market or product research feel incomplete without demographic insights about your consumers? Or are you conducting any type of demographic survey and want to improve survey responses by at least 60 percent?

This article will tell you how to get people to release intimate information with simple demographic survey questions without having any concern about privacy invasion.

Want to create an online demographic survey? Use Formplus' easy-to-use Online Form Builder to create beautiful surveys. Sign up to Formplus now to start creating beautiful online surveys.


What is a Demographic Survey?

Demographic surveys are special types of survey, usually included as a subset of a larger survey that seeks to study intricate personal identity in respondents, such as; gender, age, education, occupation, household income, birth, marital status, ethnicity etc. 

These surveys are commonly used to understand product consumers for market research, and to understand the prevailing trends in the market.


Social Media Demography

Although, the reluctance to release data has reduced significantly due to the amount of information already available on social media. However, there are still some core data your prospective audience will never release unless you intend to get a falsified demographic data.

Do you know why Google is paying Apple a whopping $12 Billion to remain the default search engine on Safari for all iPhones and Mac products? It’s simple, Google recognizes Apple products as premium and its users are 4-8 times more likely to convert from Ads than an Android user. Infact, 75% of Google’s mobile ad revenue since 2015 has come from Apple users.

Here is a list of top demographic survey questions you must NEVER ask in a survey and the alternative way to coin your survey questions in order to encourage true response.


Avoid Primary Personal Data

Except you’re conducting a product or a customer survey, you should try as much as possible to avoid collecting personal data.

Asking for a respondent’s house address, official name, phone number, email address, employer address etc. as a demographic survey question is a complete turn-off for a prospective respondent who believes they are doing you a favor by answering your survey. 

Avoid Survey Questions Like;

  • Official Name
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address (If possible)
  • House Address
  • Office Address
  • Name of Spouse
  • Name of Kids


Date of Birth

Demographic questions in market research or product surveys will likely want to know respondent’s age as it helps to study trends and peculiarities amongst generations.

If for example, you’re conducting a music survey, you might want to know which age groups prefer Jazz to Hip-Hop or Reggae.

Do not ask respondent of their date of birth. You should rather ask for their age range by categorizing similar generations together. I.e Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z, Generation Alpha as explained by Career Planners

Want to include age data in a demographic survey? Ask; What is your age range?

You can use this age range if you need to include demographic data in your survey;

  • Under 18 years
  • 18-24 years
  • 25-34 years
  • 35-44 years
  • 45- 55 years
  • 56- 70 years
  • 70 and above


Ethnicity/Race Questions

Cornell & Hartmann explained Ethnicity as groups of people that share a common identity-based ancestry, language, or culture. It is often based on religion, beliefs, and customs as well as memories of migration or colonization .

Many countries in Europe and America prohibit the use of personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, and the processing of data concerning health or sex life except for scientific, health, and medical research.

In order to simplify your questions in the best possible form, try highlighting common ethnic groups peculiar to your brands, products or in the survey city. Since ethnicity can be perceived as a sensitive demographic survey question, always leave a way out for respondent who prefers not to answer the question.

NB: This question can be modified, depending on the survey study.

I.e What is your ethnicity?

  • Black or African American
  • Latino or Hispanic
  • White or Native American
  • Asian
  • Arab
  • Others (A way out)


 Gender/Sex Questions

Gender related demographic questions in surveys can now be termed biased if it doesn’t capture other gender orientations in a population. 

This might not be as subjective as survey questions surrounding ethnicity. However, it is still a highly sensitive question depending on your methods and area country of residence. Ensure that your gender questions don’t look demeaning to your respondent by ensuring you cover the prevalent gender options in your sampling area.

I.e What is your Gender?

  • Male
  • Female
  • Trans-Gender
  • Non-Binary
  • Prefer not to say

NB: Except, you’re carrying out a health survey, sex products survey, lifestyle surveys, or any other survey related to the LGBT group, it probably best if you do not directly ask your respondent about their sexual orientation. It might sound offensive to some of the respondents and your survey may be seen to be “judgy” or discriminatory.


Employment Status

If your survey is about job, labor or employment - you probably would have a question about respondent's employment status. This can also be used to deduce respondents spending ability, employment level, industrialization etc.

Since employment status can mean different things to a range of people, always ensure to cover all the major groups rather than just asking if they are Employed or Not.

A more acceptable range to use is:

What is your employment status?

  • Employed
  • Employed Part-time
  • Self-Employed
  • Unemployed
  • Under-employed (My wage is below industry standard)
  • Retired
  • Student
  • Others (A way out)


Do NOT Ask Respondents for Home/Office Address:

Asking for a respondent's home or office address in a demographic survey is unacceptable. If you’re conducting an international or a continental survey, it’s best to list countries or continents. However, if your survey is a national or a local one, you can have a state or city option. 

I.e What is your Location? (Continental Surveys)

  • America
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Middle-East
  • Australia
  • Others

What is your Location? (National)

  • Miami
  • Florida
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • New-York
  • …….
With users consent, Formplus’ online survey tool has a geo-location feature which uses Google Maps to capture location of every survey response. You don't need to ask respondent of their location in a demographic surveys. Log on to Formplus to create your preferred online surveys now


Do NOT ask for Respondent Direct Income:

This demographic question is very important for organization who are conducting product research for a new product amongst customers. This helps companies understand the income range of their customers and how likely they’ll buy an expensive product or opt for cheaper ones.

Although, household income looks conservative and less direct than asking questions like “How much do you earn per annum?” - whose target is meant for individuals than a family. Except you’re conducting an employee survey, you can always avoid asking direct questions on respondent income.

I.e What’s your annual household income range?

  • Less than $ 30,000
  • $30,000 - $70,000
  • $71,000- $100,000
  • $101,000 - 200,000
  • $ 201,000 - 999,000
  • Above $ 1 million
  • Prefer not to say

Sometimes, an income tax can give research experts an overview of what a respondent earns annually. People will most likely respond to questions about their tax rate than their annual salary.

If your country’s annual income tax is 20 percent, you can easily deduce that an employee paying $20,000 as tax earns minimum of $200,000 per annum. You can construct a survey questions like;

How much tax do you pay per annum?

  • Less than $3,000
  • $3,000 - $5,000
  • $5,001 - $10,000
  • $10,001 - $20,000
  • Above $20,000
  • I don’t know
  • Prefer not to say (A way out)


Marital Status

This is a highly contested demographic survey question among research experts. Many believe a person’s marital status is irrelevant to product research as we have many groups of people who enjoy “marital privilege” without being married.

Child? There are single mothers and single individuals who have adopted children.

Leave-in couple? There are people who are not married but are cohabiting in some sort of relationship.

Divorced? What if they’ve found another love and are in a relationship?

Separated? Have you heard of exclusive marriage where couples can have other affairs outside their homes?

If you decide to ask demographic questions related to marital status in your online surveys, make sure it’s absolutely relevant to your research. You can always ask in a carefully worded tone like;

What is your relationship status?

  • Single
  • Married or in a cohabiting relationship
  • Widowed
  • Divorced
  • Separated
  • Other


Education

This is another tricky aspect of a demographic survey question. It’s even harder if your targeted audience are older citizens above the age of 60. Discovering your customer’s education level can give you an interesting insight about who your products appeal to or the type of customer service that’ll be effective for varying education levels.

Do NOT ask a bland question like “What’s the name of the last school you attended” or a direct question like “ Are you a PhD holder? You might get a skewed result from such survey questions, which might end up being irrelevant to your research. Rather you can ask questions about their “highest education level or degree obtained”

I.e. What is your highest level of education?

  • Less than a high school certificate
  • High school certificate
  • Higher Diploma
  • Bachelors (Bsc. Bed. B.Tech. B.Law etc)
  • Master Degree (MA, MSc, MEd)
  • Doctorate (PhD, M.Phil)
  • Others


Religious Background

Really? Except you have a religion related product/services or you want to understand your employees religious background to grant holidays, leave or have a prayer room lurking somewhere, this shouldn't be included in a survey question.

Asking a demographic survey question on respondent religious background is one of the trickiest question you can ask in surveys. Our advice is - Don’t ask, except it is absolutely necessary in decision making. 

Let the respondent know why you have to ask for their religious background. It may be to adjust your restaurant order menu to accommodate some religious preferences, adjust menu or any other reasons you might have. 

I.e. What is your religious affiliation?

  • Jewish
  • Christian (Catholic, Protestant, Adventist, or any other denomination)
  • Islam
  • Hindu
  • Buddhism
  • Atheist
  • Other, I am not religious


Allergies

This is a useful survey question in health, hospitality or restaurant industry. It’s best to ask questions related to allergy directly as it concerns the well being of the respondent.

As a restaurant, food or coffee shop, you can discover the reasons why people prefer your competitors to you. Have you done an allergy survey to determine whether the cause of your low patronage is because you use a particular ingredient that most people do not like or are allergic to? Some of your customers might just be allergic to cow's milk, wheat, soy, peanuts, fish, avocado, cheese etc. 

Allergy question is also important on registration forms for parties, events, camps, and school trips.

You can ask an allergy related question like this:

    Do you have any food/drug allergy?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I don’t know

Use a conditional statement with Formplus Builder.

If Yes,

What substance are you allergic to?

  • Leave a box for answer


Want to start a demographic survey but still don’t know how to start? Checkout our ready-made demographic survey form template and start receiving survey response in few minutes. You can also contact support for any enquiries you might have about using Formplus’ excellent survey features.


CONCLUSION

Asking Demographic survey questions during research can be dicey, the secret is knowing your audience and predicting how they’ll react to every question.

We asked you to avoid incessant use of “Do” when during research surveys because it limits answer options to either “yes or no”. A “Yes or No” variable questions are only useful when interpreting quantitative research project and might not give you the required result in qualitative analysis.

Knowing the right demographic questions to ask in your research or market survey is a potential goldmine for your company. It doesn’t matter how you interpret these data, asking intricate demographic survey questions can either cause low response or false answers for users.

With Formplus 21-days free trial, you can have access to all premium features that will help you conduct the best survey you’ll ever wish for. Signup on Formplus now to start creating online surveys





  • Formplus Blog
  • on 9 min read

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