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ONS admits census question on gender may have been misunderstood

ONS has ‘confidence’ in data showing there are 262,000 trans people in England and Wales… despite admitting census question may have been misunderstood by those with poor English after they were FIVE times likelier to state gender didn’t match birth sex

The UK’s statistics body has expressed confidence in a finding that 262,000 people in England and Wales have a different gender identity to their sex registered at birth.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there was ‘no evidence’ the design of a census question or the processing of data had an ‘adverse effect’ on the published figure.

This is despite their admission that some who responded to the 2021 census may not have understood a question on gender identity if English was not their first language.

A new ONS report, published today, revealed those who did not speak English were five times more likely to state they were transgender than those who had English as their main language.

But the report suggested that a higher level of people identifying as transgender among those born outside the UK could also be due to ‘cultural factors’.

This included trans migrants specifically choosing to move to Britain because of stronger civil rights laws and a greater social acceptance than in other countries.

The 2021 census data revealed how gender identity varied across England and Wales, with London having higher percentages of people who identified as a trans man or a trans woman

Some 30,000 (0.06 per cent) identified as non-binary, while 18,000 (0.04 per cent) wrote in a different gender identity

In England, the region with the highest percentage who reported a different gender identity to their sex at birth was London (0.91 per cent)

The census question was asked as a means of providing the first official data on the size of the transgender population in England and Wales

A voluntary question on gender identity was included in the census for the first time in 2021 and was answered by 45.7million people in England and Wales.

Those aged 16 and over were asked whether the gender they identified with was the same as their sex registered at birth.

Of those who answered the question, 45.4million (93.5 per cent of the population aged over 16) while 262,000 (0.5 per cent) answered ‘no’.

Some 2.9million people (6 per cent) did not answer the question, while those who answered ‘no’ were asked to provide their gender identity.

This revealed 48,000 people (0.1 per cent) across England and Wales identified as a trans man and 48,000 (0.1 per cent) identified as a trans woman.

Another 30,000 (0.06 per cent) identified as non-binary, while 18,000 (0.04 per cent) said they were of a different gender identity.

The census question was asked as a means of providing the first official data on the size of the transgender population in England and Wales. 

In today’s report, which investigated the quality of the census data on gender identity, the ONS said the gender identity question went through a ‘rigorous development and testing process’ before being included in the census.

Research into the collection and processing of the census data ‘provided no evidence that the design of the question or the statistical processing of the collected data had an adverse effect on the quality of the published statistics’, the report stated.

It added that comparing the census data with other sources – such as NHS patient surveys, Canada’s census or US studies – found ‘no reason to conclude that the census statistics on gender identity were implausible’.

But the ONS did make an admission that there were ‘some patterns in the data that are consistent with, but do not conclusively demonstrate, some respondents not interpreting the question as intended’.

‘We cannot say with certainty whether the census estimates are more likely to be an overestimate or an underestimate of the total number of trans people aged over 16 years in England and Wales,’ the report stated.

It also noted how, because the trans group in England and Wales is a ‘small proportion of the population’ at 1 in 200 people, there is a ‘higher risk’ of the data being impacted by errors.

The report’s consideration of ‘unexpected’ data patterns included looking at how 0.4 per cent of the population who had English or Welsh as their main language reported as transgender, compared to 1.6 per cent who had a different main language.

It also revealed how 2.1 per cent of people who did not speak English at all reported as transgender.

‘There were clear patterns of trans identification being higher for people born outside the UK and people with lower proficiency in English,’ the report said.

‘These patterns might be thought consistent with some respondents not interpreting the question as we had intended but could also be affected by other considerations such as cultural factors.

‘For example, it is possible (but difficult to confirm) that trans migrants might have specifically chosen the UK because of its civil rights legislation and greater social acceptance than many other countries, impacting the trans proportion among that population group.’

The report also suggested that those with lower proficiency in English might have wanted to minimise the amount they needed to write and so were more likely not to write in a more detailed response after ticking ‘no’ to the gender identity question.

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