Latest release

Standard for Sex and Gender Variables

The standard for sex and gender variables identifies sex and gender as two distinct concepts and defines standard classification categories for each

Reference period
2016
Released
2/02/2016
Next release Unknown
First release

Preface

This release replaces the Standard for Sex Variable contained in Demographic Variables, 1999 (cat. no. 1285.0).

The terms "sex" and "gender" are often used interchangeably within the general community. However, although highly related, sex and gender are distinct concepts. By bringing these two concepts together into a single standard, it is possible to explain the relationship between them and provide context for their appropriate use. In practice, it is expected that most users will need to collect only one of sex or gender to meet their statistical needs.

The sex and gender standard includes guidelines on the collection of counts of persons who do not fall within the male or female categories of sex and/or gender. Consequently the standard's data collection procedures recognise the need to include a third category to ensure the standard caters for the whole population.

The Standard for Sex and Gender Variables is consistent with the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015, (Attorney-General's Department).

Contact information

The Standard for Sex and Gender Variables has been produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Enquiries should be directed to standards@abs.gov.au.

Privacy policy

The ABS Privacy Policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information that you provide to us.

Introduction

The development of the Standard for Sex and Gender Variables is the result of a review of the ABS Sex standard (Demographic Variables, 1999 (cat. no. 1285.0)).

This standard explains the interrelated concepts of sex and gender. It also defines standard classification categories for each concept and includes question modules for the collection of sex and gender information. Users of this standard need to identify the concept they want to collect (i.e. either sex or gender), then refer to the appropriate sections of the standard for guidance.

The concept of sex is based on the physical or biological aspects of a person's body while the concept of gender relates to the way a person feels, presents and is recognised within the general community and may refer to outward social markers such as their name, outward appearance, mannerisms and dress. Sexual orientation is a separate concept and is not covered in this standard.

Although there are no definitive figures on the subject, the findings of various research indicates that for the majority of people, usually around 98%, there is a clear correlation between their sex and gender (e.g. biological sex is male and gender is male). For this reason the conceptual difference between sex and gender is not well understood by the general public with the two concepts often used interchangeably in legislation, research, and the media. This standard brings both concepts together to provide each with context and clarify the meaning and intention of each.

This standard was developed in consideration of the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015 (Attorney-General's Department) which complements Commonwealth anti-discrimination law (The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013) and the Australian Privacy Principles, (Privacy Act 1988). The guidelines apply to all Australian Government departments and agencies that maintain personal records and/or collect sex and/or gender information, and should be referred to when implementing this standard. All users of this standard need to take into account relevant legislation, including anti-discrimination law and privacy principles.

Underlying concepts

Name of the variables

The names of the variables are 'sex' and 'gender'.

    Definition of the variables

    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.

            Discussion of conceptual issues

            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:

            Classification and coding

            The sex and gender classifications and classification criteria

            The classifications underpinning the variables 'sex' and 'gender' are similar, but the criterion used to distinguish between the categories in the two classifications differ.

            The criterion used to distinguish the categories of the sex standard classification is the set of biological attributes that define the different types of sexes (i.e. males, females and others). Whereas the criterion used to distinguish the categories of the gender standard classification is the set of factors that make up a person's chosen identity within society.

            Table 1 below describes the category codes, labels, and definitions of the sex classification and the gender classification.

            Table 1 - The sex and gender standard classifications and code structures

            Preferred CodeAlternate CodeLabelDefinition
            The Sex Standard Classification
            1MMalePersons who have male or predominantly masculine biological characteristics, or male sex assigned at birth.
            2FFemalePersons who have female or predominantly feminine biological characteristics, or female sex assigned at birth.
            3XOtherPersons who have mixed or non-binary biological characteristics (if known), or a non-binary sex assigned at birth.
            The Gender Standard Classification
            1MMaleAdults who identify themselves as men, and children who identify themselves as boys.
            2FFemaleAdults who identify themselves as women, and children who identify themselves as girls.
            3XOtherAdults and children who identify as non-binary, gender diverse, or with descriptors other than man/boy or woman/girl.


            Although both classifications use identical category codes and labels, the definitions of each category are unique and align with the concepts of sex and gender. The use of identical labels for both classifications also aligns with the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015 (Attorney-General's Department).

            While the majority of the population identifies both their sex and gender as either male or female and describe themselves as such, a small proportion of the population identify their sex and/or gender as other than male or female. The label 'Other' is used in this standard's classifications to describe the third categories of both sex and gender because a more descriptive term has not been widely agreed within the general community. The use of 'Other' is also consistent with best practice for developing statistical classifications that identify and accurately label categories that make up a significant proportion of an overall population (e.g. 'Male' and 'Female'), with the remaining categories of a population brought together to form a third category labelled 'Other'.

            Terms such as 'indeterminate' and 'intersex' are variously used to describe the third category of sex, while terms such as 'gender diverse' is used to describe the third category of gender, and 'non-binary' and 'unspecified' are terms used to describe the third categories of both sex and gender. Classifications using such labels, including the terminology recommended in the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015 (i.e. Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified), align in general with the scope of the 'Other' categories in these standard classifications.

            Further, this standard recommends the inclusion of a 'please specify' write-in facility for the 'Other' categories giving respondents the opportunity to describe their sex and/or gender in a way they are comfortable with.

            While the population currently classified to the 'Other' category in either the sex or gender classification is small, some users of this standard may require a further breakdown of the 'Other' category, for example when undertaking an in depth social study. In such cases, researchers may add a second level to the classification to disaggregate the 'Other' categories. The glossary of this standard can be used to assist with the identification of appropriate subcategories and labels. If a user wants to undertake a complex study of sex and/or gender diversity, please contact the ABS for further advice.

            The ABS will review the 'Other' labels, and may provide further guidance on appropriate 'Other' subcategories and labels, when this standard is next reviewed, if further information (e.g. cognitive testing, analysis of actual responses, updates to related standards and guidelines) is available to inform development.

            Supplementary codes

            The following supplementary code is used to code inadequately described responses and non-responses for both sex and gender:

            0 - Not stated/Inadequately described

            Scope of variables

            The variables 'sex' and 'gender' apply to all persons.

            Application of the classifications to other variables

            The 'sex' and 'gender' classifications are not applicable to other variables.

            Coding procedures and coding indexes

            Input procedures (for both sex and gender)

            Input coding and imputation procedures may be necessary when data is missing, unreported or unavailable.

            The UN Handbook on Population and Housing Census Editing, Revision 1, (Sections 346-347) suggests that where individual sex data items are unavailable, "...values can be assigned alternately, starting with either one ['male' or 'female'], using the opposite sex for the second invalid entry and continuing in this fashion".

            This process would also apply for the collection of gender statistics.

            Collection methods

            Standard question modules

            Standard question module - sex

            For the collection of sex, the following standard tick box question module should be used. The 'Male' response option is shown first due to tradition in the ABS and alignment with other collections, both in Australia and overseas.

            What is your sex? Please [tick/mark/select] one box.

            Mandatory elements

            The following elements must be included:

            • the word 'sex' in the question to clearly articulate the concept being collected;
            • label the response options 'Male', 'Female' and 'Other, please specify';
            • a write-in facility is available when the 'Other' response option is selected; and
            • a note that only one response is permitted.


            The inclusion of the 'please specify' write-in facility for 'Other' allows respondents the opportunity to describe their sex using a term they are comfortable with, whilst also maximising the potential for analysis of the responses provided. While the 'Other, please specify' category is mandatory in the question wording, the respondent has the option of providing a response (e.g. the term the respondent is comfortable with).

            Allowable variations

            Minor variations to the question wording is allowed. For example:

            Which of the following describes your sex? Please [tick/mark/select] one box,
            or
            Sex, please [tick/mark/select] one box

            Optional inclusions

            The Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015 (Attorney-General's Department) recommends 'departments and agencies should refrain from making assumptions about a person's sex and/or gender identity based on indicators such as their name, voice or appearance' and suggests that when interviews are conducted interviewers should read out the question and all response options.

            Some research studies have found that asking about a person's sex is viewed as confrontational and/or insensitive by some respondents. Introducing the question by explaining its importance, and how responses are used and processed, as well as confidentiality considerations, may alleviate negativity toward the question and reduce resistance to answering.

            As there is no conclusively agreed upon evidence to support quality gains from including an introductory explanation to the sex question, the inclusion of explanatory material is optional and at the discretion of those undertaking the collection. Furthermore it is also recognised that this approach may not be possible in some instances as questionnaires have space and time limitations.

            For self-completed questionnaires the following explanatory information may be included in web forms or on paper forms (and formatted appropriately).

            Like information on age, sex is a primary means of measuring and analysing many aspects of the population, for example population counts and projections, health, etc, and stringent confidentiality measures are applied to all statistical datasets to ensure the privacy of individual's responses.

            For face-to-face and telephone interviews the following may be read to the respondent immediately before asking the sex question.

            In order to avoid making assumptions, I am required to ask you to report your sex. Like information on age, sex is a primary means of measuring and analysing many aspects of the population, for example population counts and projections, health, etc, and stringent confidentiality measures are applied to all statistical datasets to ensure the privacy of individual's responses.

            If a respondent does not wish to answer this question during an interview, on behalf of themselves or others, or questions the meaning of the 'Other, please specify' option, the interviewer should refer to their Interviewer's Instructions which should include a standard script explaining the importance of the question (e.g. how the information is used) and that responses are confidential, and a definition of 'Other' which includes examples of alternative terms (e.g. intersex).

            Collecting sex information on behalf of others

            Some statistical collections seek information about a number of people from a single respondent and each person is not directly asked the questions. For example, an adult reporting on behalf of other members of his or her household, a staff member reporting on behalf of others in their organisation, or a carer reporting for their charge.

            In these situations the following question module should be used:

            What is (person 1's/person's name) sex? Please [tick/mark/select] one box.

            The allowable variations to question wording and optional inclusions noted above also apply.

            An interim alternative question module

            The previous ABS sex standard (Demographic Variables, 1999 (cat. no. 1285.0)) recommended the inclusion of only two response options: (i) Male, and (ii) Female. While there are advantages to implementing the new standard as soon as possible (improved accuracy and comparability) it is acknowledged that impediments to transitioning to the new question module may exist (e.g. system limitations, lack of redevelopment funds, methodological dependancies) leading to implementation delays.

            In such cases where the 'Other' option cannot be included in the question, the following module should be used:

            What is your sex? Please [tick/mark/select] one box.


              The allowable question wording variations and optional inclusions noted above also apply to this module.

              When the 'Other, please specify' response option is excluded an alternative means of collecting responses other than male or female must be provided. Suggested options for doing so include:

              • The inclusion of a 'More information' facility on web forms, which when selected links to appropriate help that includes explanatory material and/or advice on the appropriate action.
              • For telephone and face-to-face interviews, the interviewer should have access to a standard script and process which explains how responses other than male or female are to be recorded.
              • For self-completed paper forms, a strategy to inform the relevant collection population of provisions to report other than male or female, like that noted above for web forms, should be implemented where possible (e.g. consultation with advocacy groups, include the strategy in published survey information).
                 

              Standard question module - gender

                With some minor exceptions, question modules and collection procedures for gender mirror those outlined previously for sex.

                For the collection of gender, the following standard tick box question module should be used. The 'Male' response option is shown first to align with the sex standard question module.

                What is your gender? Please [tick/mark/select] one box.

                Mandatory elements

                The following elements must be included:

                • the term 'gender' in the question to clearly articulate the concept being collected;
                • label the response options 'Male', 'Female' and 'Other, please specify';
                • a write-in facility is available when the 'Other' response option is selected; and
                • a note that only one response is permitted.


                The inclusion of the 'please specify' write-in facility for 'Other' allows respondents the opportunity to describe their gender using a term they are comfortable with, whilst also maximising the potential for analysis of the responses provided. While the 'Other, please specify' category is mandatory in the question wording, the respondent has the option of providing a response (e.g. the term the respondent is comfortable with).

                Allowable variations

                Minor variations to the question wording is allowed. For example:

                Which of the following describes your gender? Please [tick/mark/select] one box,

                or

                What gender do you identify as? Please [tick/mark/select] one box

                or

                Gender, please [tick/mark/select] one box.

                Optional inclusions

                The Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015 recommends 'departments and agencies should refrain from making assumptions about a person's sex and/or gender identity based on indicators such as their name, voice or appearance' and suggests that when interviews are being conducted interviewers should read out the question and all response options.

                Some research studies have found that asking about a person's gender is viewed as confrontational and/or insensitive by some respondents. Introducing the question by explaining its importance, and how responses are used and processed, as well as confidentiality considerations, may alleviate negativity toward the question and reduce resistance to answering.

                As there is no conclusively agreed upon evidence to support quality gains from including an introductory explanation to the gender question, the inclusion of explanatory material is optional and at the discretion of those undertaking the collection. Furthermore it is also recognised that this approach may not be possible in some instances as questionnaires have space and time limitations.

                For self-completed questionnaires the following explanatory information may be included in web forms or on paper forms (and formatted appropriately).

                Like information on age, gender is a primary means of measuring and analysing many aspects of the population, for example population counts and projections, health, etc, and stringent confidentiality measures are applied to statistical datasets to ensure the privacy of individual responses.

                For face-to-face and telephone interviews the following may be read to the respondent immediately before asking the gender question.

                In order to avoid making assumptions, I am required to ask you to report your gender. Like information on age, gender is a primary means of measuring and analysing many aspects of the population, for example population counts and projections, health, etc, and stringent confidentiality measures are applied to statistical datasets to ensure the privacy of individual responses.

                If a respondent does not wish to answer this question during an interview, on behalf of themselves or others, or questions the meaning of the 'Other, please specify' option, the interviewer should refer to their Interviewer's Instructions which should include a standard script explaining the importance of the question (e.g. how the information is used) and that responses are confidential, and a definition of 'Other' which includes examples of alternative terms (e.g. gender diverse).

                Collecting gender information on behalf of others

                Some statistical collections seek information about a number of people from a single respondent and each person is not directly asked the questions. For example, an adult reporting on behalf of other members of his or her household, a staff member reporting on behalf of others in their organisation, or a carer reporting for their charge.

                In these situations the following module should be used:

                What is (person 1's/person's name) gender? Please [tick/mark/select] one box.

                The allowable variations to question wording and optional inclusions noted above also apply.

                Standard input categories

                The standard input categories for sex and gender are the same as the categories of the classification. For operational reasons, a supplementary code is also included to enable non-responses and inadequately described responses to be coded.

                The input categories are 'Male', 'Female', 'Other' and 'Not stated/Inadequately described'.

                Output

                Standard output categories

                The standard output categories for both sex and gender are:

                • Males
                • Females
                • Other
                • Not stated/Inadequately described
                   

                It should be noted that the term 'Persons' is used in preference to 'Total' when presenting total population counts for both sex and gender.

                Confidentiality issues may arise at various levels of dissemination if a small number of 'Other' responses are recorded. When this issue arises, it is recommended that 'Other' responses are alternately recoded to male and female, as supported by the United Nations Statistical Division 2010, Handbook on Population and Housing Census Editing, Revision 1, (Sections 346-347), with the methodology used clearly articulated in supporting documentation.

                All data collected by the ABS is subject to confidentiality rules where no individual shall be identified and an individual response should not be identifiable. The ABS privacy policy outlines how the ABS will handle any personal information provided to us.

                Supporting variables

                The sex variable and the gender variable do not require any supporting variables.

                Bibliography

                Show all

                Attorney-General's Department 2015, Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, Attorney General's Dept, Barton, ACT

                Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Demographic Variables, cat. no. 1292.0.15.001, ABS, Canberra.

                Australian Human Rights Commission (issuing body.) 2015, Resilient Individuals, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Intersex Rights: National Consultation Report, Sydney, N.S.W. Australian Human Rights Commission

                Australia. Parliament. House of Representatives. Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

                United Nations. Statistical Division 2010, Handbook on Population and Housing Census Editing Revision 1 (Sections 346-347), United Nations, New York

                United Nations. Statistical Division 2008, Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2. United Nations, New York

                United Nations. Statistical Division 2014, Principles and Recommendations for a Vital Statistics System, Revision 3. United Nations, New York

                Glossary

                Show all

                The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) supports the right of people to identify their sex and gender as they choose and recognised that terminology in this area is strongly contested with the Australian Human Rights Commission noting there is no clear consensus on appropriate terminology. Resilient Individuals: Sexual Orientation Gender Identity & Intersex Rights, 2015 (Australian Human Rights Commission). The following explanations are provided to help users of this standard.

                Gender

                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.

                Gender diverse

                An umbrella term used to describe all those whose gender identity is at odds with their biological sex. Definitions, Trans Gender Victoria.

                Gender identity

                A person's deeply held internal and individual sense of gender. Resilient Individuals: Sexual Orientation Gender Identity & Intersex Rights, 2015.

                Indeterminate

                A person of indeterminate sex or gender is either someone whose biological sex cannot be unambiguously determined or someone who identifies as neither male nor female. Many terms are used to recognise people who do not fall within the traditional binary notions of sex and gender (male and female), including non-binary, gender diverse, gender queer, pan-gendered, androgynous and inter-gender. Some cultures may have their own terms for gender identities outside male and female, for example, ‘sistergirl’ and ‘brotherboy’ are used by some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender, November 2015 (Attorney-General's Department).

                Intersex

                People who are born with genetic, hormonal or physical sex characteristics that are not typically ‘male’ or ‘female.’ Intersex people have a diversity of bodies and identities. Resilient Individuals: Sexual Orientation Gender Identity & Intersex Rights, 2015 (Australian Human Rights Commission).

                Non-binary

                Non-binary is an umbrella term for all who don't identify as a binary gender (i.e. male or female).

                Sex

                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.

                Sexual orientation

                A person's emotional or sexual attraction to another person, including amongst others, the following identities: heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual or same-sex attracted. Resilient Individuals: Sexual Orientation Gender Identity & Intersex Rights, 2015.

                Trans (or transgender)

                A general term for a person whose gender identity is different to their sex at birth. A trans person may take steps to live permanently in their nominated sex with or without medical treatment. Resilient Individuals: Sexual Orientation Gender Identity & Intersex Rights, 2015.

                History of changes

                Show all

                5/02/2016 - The page Underlying Concepts has been updated to correct a misspelt word. No other changes have been made.

                Previous catalogue number

                This release previously used catalogue number 1200.0.55.012.