1200.0.55.012 - Standard for Sex and Gender Variables, 2016  
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The names of the variables are 'sex' and 'gender'.


Nominal definition of sex

The term ‘sex’ refers to a person’s biological characteristics. A person’s sex is usually described as being either male or female. Some people may have both male and female characteristics, or neither male nor female characteristics, or other sexual characteristics.

Sex is assigned at birth and is relatively fixed. However, a person's sex may change during their lifetime as a result of procedures commonly referred to as sex change, gender reassignment, gender affirmation, transsexual surgery, transgender reassignment or sexual reassignment. Throughout this process, which may be over a considerable period of time, sex may be recorded as either male, female or other.

Operational definition of sex

Operationally, sex is the distinction between male, female, and others who do not have biological characteristics typically associated with either the male or female sex, as reported by a respondent.

Nominal definition of gender

The term ‘gender’ refers to the way in which a person identifies their masculine or feminine characteristics. A person’s gender relates to their deeply held internal and individual sense of gender and is not always exclusively male or female. It may or may not correspond to their sex assigned at birth.

As gender is determined by the individual, it can therefore be fluid over time.

Operational definition of gender

Operationally, gender is the distinction between male, female, and genders which are a combination of male and female, or neither male nor female, as reported by a respondent.


Determining whether to collect sex or gender

Consistent with Australian Privacy Principles, (Privacy Act 1988), sex and gender information should only be collected where it is necessary for, or directly related to, one or more of the agency's functions or activities.

In general, both sex and gender should not be collected in a single collection instrument as information gained from either of these variables is sufficient for the majority of statistical purposes. The Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015 (Attorney-General's Department), advocate the preferred Australian Government approach of collecting and using gender information, with sex only being collected where there is a legitimate need.

As a general rule, sex should only be collected if the study relies on knowing the biological characteristics of the target population. For example, the assessment and treatment of some medical conditions are dependent upon knowing the biological characteristics of people.

To assist data comparability, relevant international frameworks and guidelines also need to be considered when assessing whether sex or gender should be included in statistical collections. In addition, where statistics are based on multiple data sources (e.g. administrative data as well as survey data), consistency of the concept collected is preferable.

It should be recognised that in some cases an individual may choose to report their gender when sex is being requested due to safety concerns or fear of discrimination. For example, a biological male may feel it may be dangerous to disclose their sex when they express and dress as a female.

In the event that a complex study of social conditions is undertaken which requires the collection of both concepts, please contact the ABS for further advice.

For the ABS, this standard applies to both household and business collections wherever information about people is collected. The production of ABS population estimates and projections are dependent on the measurement of biological sex obtained from the Census of Population and Housing and the number of births and deaths, recorded by sex, regularly provided to the ABS by each State and Territory's Registrars of Births, Deaths, and Marriages.

As part of the global statistical community, the ABS bases many of its statistical collections on international statistical frameworks and guidelines, covering a variety of topics. By doing so, the ABS adopts widely accepted best-practice approaches, and produces high quality data on the same basis as other national and international statistical organisations. Two key guidelines critical to the ABS's decision to collect sex are: