surveys | February 13, 2020

13 Top Demographic Survey Questions You Should be Using

Daniel Ndukwu

Demographic segmentation is one of the most popular methods of market segmentation. The data is relatively easy to get and can help you craft more targeted marketing messages.

Before you can use it successfully, it’s important to be clear on the best demographic groups in your audience. That’s where demographic survey questions come into play.

You don’t want to create campaigns targeted at generation Z when most of the people buying your product are millennials.

Use simple demographic surveys to understand the breakdown of your audience and make the right decisions. This article walks you through what demographic surveys are, why they matter, and demographic survey questions you should and shouldn’t use.

What is a demographic survey?

A demographic survey is a market research instrument in the form of a questionnaire that gives you a specific type of audience insight. It varies widely but you can get information about the respondent’s age, gender, income, and more.

Most surveys aren’t used to collect only demographic data. Rather, demographic survey questions are only part of a questionnaire. They can be an icebreaker and a great way to do cross-tabulation to get deeper insights into survey results.

In the end, it’s important to ask questions that make sense for your audience. For example, if you’re trying to get feedback from a professional audience, you wouldn’t ask about their high school classes. If you’re surveying high school students, you wouldn’t ask about their marital status.

Why does demographic information matter?

Demographic data cuts across industries. It will allow you to make educated guesses about what will appeal to your customers and what would turn them off.

The background information you gather from demographic questions also makes it easier to find out where to reach them. If you know they’re employed in a marketing role at a large firm, you can narrow down marketing channels. If they’re solo entrepreneurs, you may take a different approach.

The type of question you use matters as much as what you’re asking. Let’s take a look at the demographic questions you should and shouldn’t ask.

Standard demographic survey questions to ask

1.    Age

Age is one of the most common demographic questions. It’s useful because it’ll help you understand if the person fits your target audience.

Another overlooked way to take advantage of age-related information is within your marketing. For example, if your target demographic group is over sixty, they may remember the Beatles and everything that entails. If they’re millennials, they might have fond memories of Britney Spears and TLC. There are two types of age-related demographic questions.

Broad age questions. These are used when you’re trying to get a baseline for the age of your target audience.

Demographic question example:

What is your age range?

  • Below 18
  • 18 – 24
  • 25 – 34
  • 35 – 44
  • 45 – 54
  • 44 – 64
  • Above 65

Narrow age questions. This demographic question is used when you already know the age range of your target audience but want to know the distribution.

Demographic question example:

What is your current age?

  • 18 – 20
  • 21 – 22
  • 23 – 25
  • 26 – 28
  • 29 – 31
  • 32 – 34

When to use

Use age-related demographic questions to inform your marketing campaigns. The answers will let you put the rest of the survey into perspective. For example, an eighty-year-old may answer a question about video games differently than a 22-year-old.

2.    Gender

Gender is also one of the most popular demographic questions but it’s not useful in all situations. For example, KyLeads doesn’t do much with gender information because all genders can sign up for our products.

In other industries, it’s essential to know the gender of your customers. For example, an eCommerce fashion brand would tailor product pages and marketing campaigns to specific genders. There are two types of gender-based questions.

Open-ended questions about gender. These are used when you’re not sure of the genders that make up your audience or how people describe them.

Demographic question example:

What gender do you identify as?

_______

Close ended questions about gender. These are used when you know the genders in your audience and how people identify themselves.

Demographic question example:

What gender do you identify as?

  • Male
  • Female
  • Trans-gender
  • Non-binary
  • Prefer not to answer
  • Other____

Note: You’d only use additional options if your open-ended survey showed you that’s how your audience identifies itself.

When to use gender demographic survey questions

Gender is a charged topic. There are more than two accepted gender roles in modern society so that needs to be taken into account. Instead of just asking what the respondent’s gender is, ask “what gender do you identify as?” Also, avoid referring to it as “sex”.

This question is ideal when gender matters to your business. You may have a narrow customer avatar that’s only one gender. For example, a brotherhood or a female empowerment group.

This question can help you understand how those group members identify and whether it’s time to expand to another demographic group because of increased interest.

3.    Ethnicity

The ethnicity of an individual (it’s also used interchangeably with race or culture though we’re only one race so that terminology is outdated) can have an effect on the way they answer questions. Keep in mind that ethnicity shouldn’t be used alone because it can lead to generalizations.

For example, someone could mention that they’re Latin American. The majority of Latin America identifies as Catholic. An assumption could be made that they’re answering questions a certain way because of that. It doesn’t take into consideration the place of birth (which we’ll talk about later) or age.

Demographic question example:

Please specify your ethnicity or what is your ethnicity?

  1. Caucasian
  2. African American
  3. African
  4. Latino or Hispanic
  5. Asian
  6. Two or more ethnicities
  7. Middle eastern/Arabic
  8. Unknown
  9. Prefer not to say
  10. Other

Note: there are many more possible variations and seemingly similar groups can be incredibly varied. For example, Asia has many different groups that follow geographic lines and African Americans are culturally distinct from Africans.

When to use ethnicity questions

These questions can be used to understand the common cultural backgrounds of your audience. It can also be useful for creating different types of marketing messages for broad segments. If you only want to target a specific ethnic group the responses from respondents who fit your target group will have more weight.

4.    Location

You may be interested in finding geographic information about your customers and be pleasantly surprised at their answers. It can reveal opportunities to expand operations or double down on localizing in certain markets you may not have thought about.

There are two types of location-based demographic questions.

Broad location questions. This question is useful when you can serve any country or market because of the nature of your products.

Demographic question example:

Where do you live?

  • North America
  • South America
  • Europe
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Australia

Note: You can also add Antarctica.

Narrow location questions. If you’re a local business or a national business that doesn’t provide services to other countries then narrower questions may be useful.

Where do you live?

  • New York
  • Georgia
  • North Carolina
  • California
  • Texas

Note: this kind of question can have many options so a dropdown menu is ideal. You can narrow it further and use counties or suburbs depending on the nature of your business.

When to use location questions

Demographic information related to location can help you find new markets to expand into. It can also help you make the case for doubling down on what’s already working in your business. Like other demographic data, it should be used in conjunction with other information to paint a clearer picture.

5.    Marital status

Marital status is important to market research because it allows you to make a few solid assumptions such as having children. This opens up a whole other product category and buying potential for the right kind of business. Another thing is that they may be willing to buy gifts for their significant other.

Demographic question example:

What is your marital status?

  • Single, never married
  • Divorced
  • Separated
  • Married or cohabitating
  • Widow or widower
  • Other___

When to use

Keep in mind that the assumptions about married people are just that, assumptions. For example, there are many couples without children and single people with children. Don’t ask this question unless it has direct implications in your business like a couples retreat. If it’s just to strengthen assumptions, there are other demographic questions you can ask.

6.    Employment

Employment can be used as a proxy for spending power because many respondents aren’t comfortable telling you how much they earn. It’s important to ask clarifying questions such as profession if that’s the goal because salaries can vary wildly.

Demographic survey question example:

Which of the following best describes your current employment status?

  • Full-time employment
  • Self-employed
  • Part-time employment
  • Underemployed (wage is below industry average)
  • Full time freelancing
  • Unemployed (looking for work)
  • Unemployed (not looking for work)
  • Student
  • Inability to work

When to use

We all have biases and that’s in large part due to our environments. The type of employment or level of employment someone has can affect biases. It can also be used when you’re targeting a certain type of customer such as an entrepreneur or freelancer.

Less common demographic survey questions

7.    Family size

Family size can be a follow on question after someone tells you they’re married. This will let you know whether or not they have kids. It can also be a standalone question. It can inform everything from spending habits to the kind of television watched in the home.

How many children do you have?

  • None
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6 or more

Note: If you want to get a better idea of their situation, you can ask them to exclude adult children.

8.    Previous home location(s)

This question gives you an idea of where you may have potential inroads for market penetration. The logic is simple, if someone who’s lived in X area in the past likes our products then there may be more people who like your products there.

Keep in mind that people change and adapt to their environment over time. If they lived somewhere 20 years ago then it may be irrelevant.

Which places have you lived in the last 5 years?

_____

Note: it may be best to leave this question open-ended because there are too many possible answers to account for all of them.

9.    Languages spoken at home

First and foremost, you’ll need a common language to communicate with your customers. Someone may fit your target market perfectly but the language you speak is a second or third language to them.

It also reveals more about who they are as a person. Two people can live in the same area, have the same income range, and even a similar family make up. If one is primarily English speaking and the other speaks Italian and English, you know there are fundamental differences in the psychographic profile.

What languages do you speak fluently (select all that apply)?

  • English
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • German
  • French
  • Russian
  • Mandarin
  • Other

Note: There are thousands of languages in the world but over half the world’s population speaks just 23 languages. Keep this in mind and tailor your survey questions to match the predominant groups in your audience.

10.                       Religion

Religion affects the lives of your customers in many ways. It determines the kind of foods they’ll eat, the kind of company they keep, and deep-rooted beliefs. When you understand their religion, even if they’re not devout, it’ll help you avoid seemingly harmless blunders.

It can even help you connect on a deeper level. Tread this road carefully because history has taught us that religion can be a hot button issue. When it doubt, avoid using religion in your marketing. Instead, use the data to inform what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

Please specific your religion

  • Christianity
  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • N/A
  • Prefer not to say
  • Other ____

Note: you may want to preface your question with something like “if applicable” to let people know you understand they may not have a religion.

11.                       Education

The educational attainment of your respondents is important because it can affect the way they answer questions. Someone who only completed high school would likely have a different income level, professional experience, or even life perspective than someone who’s gone on to higher education.

This demographic information will also allow you to gain insights into how you structure your messages and pitches. Someone with a master’s degree in business may not need to be told the basics of an investment strategy.

What is the highest level of education you have completed?

  • High school
  • Some high school
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • Ph.D. or higher
  • Associates degree
  • Trade school
  • Prefer not to say
  • Other _____

 

12.                       Income

Income can be a sensitive topic – especially if someone is underemployed. Avoid asking for the exact income figure and instead focus on income ranges. This demographic data is powerful because it’ll let you know if your target audience can afford your product or if they need a lower-cost alternative.

What is the annual income range of your household?

  • Under $25,000
  • $25,000 – $50,000
  • $50,001 – $100,000
  • $100,001 – $250,000
  • $250,001 – $500,000
  • $500,001 – $1,000,000
  • Above $1 million

Note: These ranges are arbitrary and used for example purposes. You may want to create narrower ranges to get better insights.

13.                       Birthplace

Many people consider birthplace a piece of demographic data that’s not strictly necessary. They’ve moved away from their birthplace and are living in a new place. While that’s true, this information can be important because of cultural leanings. This is especially relevant if they were born in a different country.

You can either go narrow or broad. If you go narrow, there will be many more options so it’ll be a good idea to leave it as an open-ended question.

Which country were you born in?

____

Which city were you born in?

_____

Where were you born?

  • North America
  • South America
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Australia
  • Africa

Demographic survey questions to avoid

Just because you have the ability to gather demographic information, that doesn’t mean people will answer your questions. Some data is too sensitive and won’t be shared willingly. In many cases, they won’t help you create more targeted marketing messages. Here are a few questions to avoid.

Date of birth

Unless you have a very good reason to collect this information, don’t bother. It’s too personal for a survey and a respondent will only give it to those they have a strong relationship with. Instead of asking this question, stick with narrow age ranges. It’s just as useful but doesn’t create as much resistance.

Names or names of family members

Many survey takers will only participate under the condition of anonymity. If, for some reason, you need Information that will make them personally identifiable, be careful about the other questions you ask.

For example, if you need their email address to enroll them in a giveaway or contest then they may be unwilling to answer questions about location, income, etc. Asking about the names of other family members is a red flag and may stop participation completely.

Address

This can be construed as shady. Why would you need their work or home address? Is there a transaction involved or are you shipping something to them? Most likely, you’re not. Even if you want to enroll them in a competition, their address isn’t needed until you choose a winner.

Avoid asking for an address and instead focus on their locality. You can ask for country, state, county, and even city.

Conclusion

Demographic information is a powerful way to segment customers and develop better marketing campaigns. Before you can do that, you have to ask demographic survey questions that hit the mark.

This guide has gone through 13 high impact questions you can start using today to enhance the demographic information you collect and grow your business.

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