Question 25 of the 2013 New Zealand Census asks:
Spot the problem.
In response to queries on the topic, the very-helpful 2013 Census Twitter account @2013Census has said:
We just ask that people mark the response that shows how they are living their lives
Which is nice, but (a) sex and gender aren’t the same thing and (b) “male” and “female” and “are you” seem pretty inflexible.
A Facebook campaign has kicked off (well, was kicked off in 2011 when the Census was meant to be on) calling on people to tick both boxes for “gender” in order to confound the results. Unfortunately, it’s not going to work, per @2013Census:
If the question about sex isn’t answered, or there are multiple repsonses, a response is imputed based on other answers
I’ve now asked what happens if you currently “live your life” as a man, but have given birth to babies – and thus would tick male but not skip question 25? Which ticky-box does the “imputation” favour? The response is:
If they’re completing their forms online they won’t be able to. If on paper it will come up with an error when the form is processed
At which point I presume they start “imputing” things again.
Here’s the clincher: despite the good key message about “how you live your life”, the fact is that the 2011 Census Content Report, when outlining why the sex question (and yep, they say “sex”, not “gender”) was not changed from 2006, says:
Sex refers to the distinction between males and females based on the biological differences in sexual characteristics.
Which pretty much seems to boil down to “penis male, vagina female”. Hence the whole “only females can have given birth” assumption.
As 3News (but not Patrick Gower, alas) has recently covered, collecting data in this way is pretty limiting. It means we just don’t have an overall national picture of sex and gender diversity among New Zealanders as a whole. Think about this: all the trans women who tick “female” but have birthed “0″ children pull the fertility measurement down, while all the trans men who tick “male” but have had, say, triplets, aren’t included.
You instantly head to the comment box to say “but there aren’t that many trans men who’ve had triplets, QoT, so it doesn’t really hurt the data” but how the fuck would you KNOW?
While other government departments might collect this kind of information in their own ways, the issues are pretty obvious: when Health collects information it’s only collecting it from people who are ill or injured; when Corrections does it it’s only collecting it from people who get into the criminal justice system.
Census needs to do a better job of collecting meaningful data about New Zealanders. Unfortunately, double-ticking the sex box (yep, that sounds good and dirty) is only going to take up computer time.