Demographic questions can be thought of as the backbone of a market research study.
Ultimately, these questions help researchers:
- Conduct surveys
- Ensure they reach the right audiences
- Better understand how to profile audiences
Learn more about collecting respondent demographic information, where questions should be placed in a survey, and 18 example demographic survey questions.
What Are Demographic Survey Questions?
Demographic questions are used in market research to help qualify respondents and gather profiling information.
Nearly every market research study includes demographic questions to qualify respondents, define/understand audiences, or both.
Need to get back to the basics? Here are some tips on how to write a survey.
Are Demographic Survey Questions Necessary?
Surveys need to be short and concise to keep respondents engaged and ensure a higher response rate.
Remember highly engaged respondents and higher response rates mean better data!
Therefore, survey writers should not ask a bunch of demographic questions in a survey unless those questions are necessary.
Here are a few tips to determine whether or not a demographic question is necessary to ask in your survey.
Tip #1: Find out if that data has already been collected
If demographic data has already been collected from the audience you wish to survey, market research companies are able to tie that information to survey responses after survey fieldwork is complete.
This data may exist in your database or CRM.
Again, our goal as survey writers is to keep surveys as short and concise as possible.
Tip #2: Determine how you will use the demographic information
Second, ask yourself if the demographic information is necessary.
It's easy to get into the mindset of adding questions for the sake of collecting more information but try not to fall into this trap.
Only collect information needed for a specific objective of the research such as advertising insight, audience segmentation, etc.
A simple example is collecting demographic information regarding gender.
It's commonplace to ask this in the demographic portion of the survey but many times it is never used.
Will you adjust your marketing strategy based on what males and females say differently? In many cases, no.
Where to Include Demographic Questions in a Survey
This is such an important question when designing a market research survey.
Ideally, demographic questions should be placed towards the end of the survey.
Asking demographic questions last sets a survey up for success by asking more pertinent questions about the topic of the study first.
This helps ensure that if someone starts the survey but does not complete it, the most important questions have the highest probability of being answered.
More specifically, sensitive information such as income or zip codes should be asked at the very end when compared to demographic questions such as age and gender.
Doing so ensures nearly every other question has been answered, which decreases the risk of drop-off.
There is always an exception to every rule!
Any demographic question that will be used to screen for qualified participants or respondents should be placed at the beginning of the survey.
In other words, don’t waste a participant’s time by asking them a bunch of questions only to disqualify them at the end of the survey for being outside of the target audience.
18 Example Demographic Survey Questions
Are you looking for sample demographic survey questions that are often used in market research? Check out these examples below.
Demographic Survey Question #1: Age
Curious about the age of survey respondents? There are a variety of ways to ask this question.
The ideal way to ask age for your next market research project will depend on how the results will be used.
Below are two examples of how to ask age in a market research survey.
- Example #1: Which of the following best describes your age? Select one.
- Example #2: What is your year of birth? A dropdown box with years listed.
For the first example, age groups can be listed traditionally (e.g., Under 18, 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54, 55 to 64, and 65 and over) or age groups can be customized based on the needs of the organization.
Opting for this method keeps analyzing survey responses and creating cross-tabulations simple.
The second example is ideal for ongoing research (since age groups for respondents will change year over year) or organizations that wish to place respondents' age groups after data has been collected.
Demographic Survey Question #2: Gender
Gender is a commonly asked demographic question, but market researchers are also finding it's becoming less necessary for organizations to ask since differences among genders are slight.
Below is an example of how to ask gender in a market research survey.
- Example: Which of the following genders do you most identify with? Select one.
Demographic Survey Question #3: Income
Income is a demographic question that asks for personal and sensitive information.
Below are two examples of how to ask for income in a market research survey.
- Example #1: Which of the following best describes your total annual income? Select one.
- Example #2: Which of the following best describes your total annual household income? Select one.
Notice the subtle difference in these questions.
The first example asks for only the respondent's income and the second example asks for the respondent's household income.
Typically responses options for questions like these are grouped in categories such as:
- Under $30,000
- $30,000 to $49,999
- $50,000 to $74,999
- $75,000 to $99,999
- $100,000 to $149,999
- $150,000 or more
Occasionally, market researchers will include a "Prefer not to answer" option.
This may keep respondents who would otherwise close out of a survey engaged.
Another way to keep respondents from closing out of a survey when asking for personal information is to allow them to skip a question.
Demographic Question #4: Race
Similar to income, this question asks respondents for personal and sensitive information about themselves.
Below is an example of how to ask about race in a market research survey.
- Example: Which of the following best describes you? Select all that apply.
Response options for this question typically include:
- Black or African American
- Hispanic or Latino
- Native American or Alaska Native
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
For this question, "Other" can be an option for respondents to select if they prefer not to answer or do not feel represented.
Demographic Question #5: Educational Attainment
Wondering how much education a respondent has completed?
Below is an example of how to ask about educational attainment in a market research survey.
- Example: What is the highest level of education you have completed? Select one.
Response options for this question typically include:
- Some high school, no diploma
- High school diploma or GED
- Some college, no degree
- Associate (2 year) degree
- Bachelor’s (4 year) degree
- Master’s degree
- Doctorate degree
Demographic Question #6: ZIP Code of Residence
If you are wondering where a survey respondent lives, collecting ZIP codes is a quick and easy way to get this information.
Responses to questions like these can be used to create a heat map (which makes areas where more respondents live darker on a map) or a dot density map (which places a dot on a map for each ZIP Code).
Below is an example of how to ask ZIP Code in a market research survey.
- Example: What is the ZIP code of your primary residence? Enter 5 digit ZIP Code.
A small text box is provided for respondents to write their ZIP code in.
Depending on where the market research is conducted, instructions on how to enter ZIP Code may be updated.
Demographic Question #7: Employment Information
Business-to-business and business-to-consumer market research users often like to ask about employment information, industry respondents work in, or job title.
Below are three examples of how to ask for employment information in a market research survey.
- Example #1: Which of the following best describes your employment status? Select one.
- Example #2: Which of the following best describes the industry you work in? Select one.
- Example #3: What is your job title? Open-ended comment box.
Response options for example #1 typically include:
- Employed full-time
- Employed part-time
Response options for example #2 can include a custom list of industries or a general list of industries.
Other Example Demographic Questions to Consider
Depending on your organization's objectives and target audience, there are additional demographic survey questions that may be beneficial to ask.
- Which of the following best describes your marital status? Select one.
- Including yourself, how many people live in your household? Select one from the dropdown menu.
- How many children (under the age of 18) primarily live in your household? Select one from the dropdown menu.
- Which of the following best describes your primary healthcare insurance? Select one.
- Which of the following best describes the setting of your primary residence? Select one.
- Which of the following best describes the location of your primary residence in the U.S.? Select one.
- What state do you primarily live in? Select one from the dropdown menu.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally posted in April 2018, but has since been updated for readability.
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As a Senior Research Analyst, Emily is approaching a decade of experience in the market research industry and loves to challenge the status quo. She is a certified VoC professional with a passion for storytelling.
Learn more about Emily, here.