LAPOP research recommends techniques to inclusively measure gender identity in Latin America and the Caribbean

Mosaic illustration

Oscar Castorena, PhD’19, senior statistician and online research lead, and Valerie Schweizer-Robinson, statistician and student programs lead, explore how society’s evolving understanding of gender is taking shape in Latin America and the Caribbean in new research published by Vanderbilt’s LAPOP lab, a center for excellence in international survey research.

Oscar Castorena (Photo by Anne Rayner)

Measuring Gender Identity in Latin America and the Caribbean” describes the challenges and opportunities in measuring gender identity in the LAC region and offers recommendations for future social science public opinion surveys. 

Context is crucial when approaching the topic of gender identity in the LAC region, the researchers said. Historically, LAC countries have grappled with high levels of discrimination and violence against gender minorities. Discrimination, social stigmas and deeply ingrained norms often make it challenging for individuals to express their true gender identity openly. 

Valerie Schweizer-Robinson (Vanderbilt University)

To address these issues and ensure that the voices of all gender identities are heard, Castorena and Schweizer-Robinson worked alongside others in the lab to develop a more inclusive and accurate measurement of gender identity. These efforts focused on creating a comfortable and empowering environment for both respondents and interviewers. 

Cognitive pretesting and online survey experiments were conducted first in Guatemala. These experiments aimed to gauge the effectiveness and acceptability of different approaches to measuring gender identity, and the results informed the development of a revised gender identity question. 

One of the central recommendations the researchers share is to use a single open-ended gender identity question in social science surveys in the LAC region. With this approach, interviewers are provided with a list of answer categories that are not visible to the respondents. The approach recognizes that gender is a deeply personal and individual experience, and no predefined list of options can encompass the richness of gender identities. 

Given the sensitivity of the topic and associated privacy and safety concerns, Castorena and Schweizer-Robinson recommend the question be phrased as “for statistical purposes” and include language that asks respondents to “confirm” their gender. This wording emphasizes the importance of the response in contributing to meaningful research while respecting the respondents’ privacy. 

Measuring gender identity in the LAC region is a complex endeavor, but it’s a critical step toward recognizing and addressing the unique challenges faced by gender minorities in the region. Discrimination and violence against gender minorities persist, making it crucial for researchers to approach this topic with care and respect for respondents’ safety. This LAPOP research highlights the importance of creating inclusive and comfortable spaces for respondents to share their gender identity, ultimately contributing to a more equitable society where all voices are heard and respected.  

The Spanish-language version of this research can be found here, and all of LAPOP’s Insights series research is here. 

About LAPOP 

LAPOP is a world leader in the development, implementation and analysis of studies of opinions and behaviors. A center for excellence in international survey research, LAPOP uses gold-standard scientific approaches and innovative methods in cross-national and targeted surveys, evaluations and reports. LAPOP functions as a social science lab, directed by Elizabeth J. Zechmeister and Associate Director Noam Lupu.  

The AmericasBarometer is LAPOP’s best-known project. This study is the only scientifically rigorous comparative survey of democratic values and behaviors that covers all independent countries in North, Central and South America, as well as a significant number of countries in the Caribbean. In 2018, LAPOP’s AmericasBarometer project was recognized with the Lijphart/Przeworski/Verba Data Set Award given by the Comparative Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.