Demographic survey questions: what they are and why you need them

Learn how background characteristics of a determined audience influence consumer sentiment and behaviors.

Where do you live? What do you do? How much do you earn? Pardon the personal questions, but gathering demographic information from questions like these is a great way to better understand your audience.

Demographic information allows you to better understand certain background characteristics of an audience, whether it’s their age, race, ethnicity, income, work situation, marital status, etc. By asking demographic questions in surveys, you can gather demographic information about current and potential customers at scale, and in turn, help you design a market segmentation strategy to reach the right clients.

What’s the definition of demographic survey questions? And more importantly, how should you use them in your surveys? Get answers to these questions and more in this article, with detailed tips for implementing them, and tools to analyze demographic information. You’ll also find specific sample survey questions and demographic examples that you can apply in your own questionnaire.

It’s best to ask demographic questions if the information is necessary for your research. Try to avoid including the basic questions like age, race, gender, and marital status that many respondents might be familiar with unless it’s absolutely necessary. While it’s great to establish a baseline demographic, you also want to avoid survey fatigue, where respondents grow tired of answering too many questions. Always build your questionnaire with the objective of providing relevant insights.

Whether you think demographic questions should be placed at the beginning or end of a questionnaire depends on how sensitive the question is. For instance, if you need to know your audience’s income level, then it’s probably best not to lead with that question. But if you need to know the respondent’s age, that information is less likely to be as sensitive and can be placed at the beginning of your survey along with the name–unless you’re conducting an anonymous survey.

Marketers are one group of professionals who have a lot to gain from asking demographic questions.

The more they know about their target population, the higher the chances their messaging will resonate with their desired audience.

Pointing to a specific market on a globe

Capture data from a specific demographic using our online panel to select survey respondents.

Think of how different your marketing efforts would be if you knew that most of your target population is composed of married men in a high-income bracket rather than single female college students. Or what if you were aiming for male retirees in California instead of female executives in the Midwest? Knowing a little about your target audience can make a big difference.

This kind of information is useful in many scenarios: You can benefit from it when developing products, measuring ad effectiveness, providing health services, understanding public opinion—even selling cars.

Anyone—regardless of their sector or industry—can benefit from finding relevant information about their audiences with SurveyMonkey demographic surveys.

The questions from SurveyMonkey’s demographic survey templates allow you to segment audiences on the basis of income, gender, location, and other factors.

Visit this link to find several use-cases for running demographic research.

A buyer persona represents your buying audience. With a buyer persona, you’re generalizing who your ideal customer is along with their likes, dislikes, and buying habits. 

Demographic questions allow you to find trends in the market that can help you reposition your business to remain relevant. For instance, if sales drop, demographic data can tell you if you’re priced too high for a particular group.

Delving into the psychology of a target audience can help you know your audience better. The right experience management platform can inform you why people prefer one brand over another.

Using demographic questions helps you target the right buying audience. For instance, you might discover women prefer your product more than men. This information could be very helpful if you intended to market to men. 

Demographic information examples include: age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, income, education, and employment. You can easily and effectively collect these types of information with survey questions.

Now, what do all these examples have in common? They’re all concrete characteristics that help narrow down which market segment the people in your target audience best fit into. That means you can split a larger group into subgroups based on, say, income or education level. Demographic questions are key to this process, but why do market segmentation in the first place?

SurveyMonkey has many expert-designed survey templates you can use straight out of the box, or as a reference to build your own customized questionnaire.

You can also use the certified questions available in the Question Bank, which is a great option in case you need to insert just a few demographic questions in a broader survey—a pretty common practice.

The following are some examples of good demographic survey questions:

Which category below includes your age?

  • 17 or younger
  • 18-20
  • 21-29
  • 30-39
  • 40-49
  • 50-59
  • 60 or older

Are you White, Black or African-American, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, or some other race?

  • White
  • Black or African-American
  • American Indian or Alaskan Native
  • Asian
  • Native Hawaiian or other Pacific islander
  • From multiple races
  • Some other race (please specify)

Pro tip: For demographic questions like the last one, it’s a good idea to add an “Other (please specify)” answer option. This type of answer option gives respondents a text box to self-identify.

What is your gender?

  • Female
  • Male
  • Other (specify)

Note that the last question requires a text box for the respondent to self-identify.

Are you now married, widowed, divorced, separated, or never married?

  • Married
  • Widowed
  • Divorced
  • Separated
  • Never married

What is the highest level of school you have completed or the highest degree you have received?

  • Less than high school degree
  • High school degree or equivalent (e.g., GED)
  • Some college but no degree
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor degree
  • Graduate degree

Which of the following categories best describes your employment status?

  • Employed, working 1-39 hours per week
  • Employed, working 40 or more hours per week
  • Not employed, looking for work
  • Not employed, NOT looking for work
  • Retired
  • Disabled, not able to work

How much total combined money did all members of your household earn in 2010?

  • $0 – $9,999
  • $10,000 – $19,999
  • $20,000 – $29,999
  • $30,000 – $39,999
  • $40,000 – $49,999
  • $50,000 – $59,999
  • $60,000 – $69,999
  • $70,000 – $79,999
  • $80,000 – $89,999
  • $90,000 – $99,999
  • $100,000 or more

Are your living quarters owned or being bought by you or someone in your household, rented for cash, or occupied without payment of cash rent?

  • Owned or being bought by you or someone else in your household
  • Rented for cash
  • Occupied without payment of cash rent

What language do you mainly speak at home?

  • English
  • Spanish
  • Chinese
  • French
  • Some other language

How many children are you parent or guardian for that live in your household (aged 17 or younger only)?

  • None
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • More than 4

Where do you currently get your news about state politics?

  • Television
  • Radio
  • Newspaper - hard copy
  • Newspaper - online
  • Magazines - hard copy
  • Magazines - online
  • Internet blog
  • Internet news site
  • Other (please specify)

Do you identify with any of the following religions? (Select all that apply.)

  • Protestantism
  • Catholicism
  • Christianity
  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Buddhism
  • Hinduism
  • Native American
  • Inter/Non-denominational
  • No religion
  • Other (please specify)

Looking for an audience to send surveys to? Our SurveyMonkey Audience product includes these attributes and more, so you can send your survey to the right people.

One of the most commonly asked demographic questions is about age range. Age is sometimes a necessary piece of information in market research segmentation, medical research, customer identification, and more.

Depending upon your research, age range may be vital in understanding your data and being able to use it. For example, if you’re studying consumer preferences and behaviors in regard to music streaming services, survey respondents in their teens and 20s will likely answer your survey questions differently than older respondents.

Determining your respondents’ age ranges will expand your understanding of your target audience and allow you to analyze similarities and differences between the different age ranges.

Because age can be a sensitive issue, follow these tips for asking your survey respondents age-related questions:

  • Include a statement in your survey instructions that explains why you’re asking for their age demographics. This will let them know the question is coming, and they will understand the context of the sensitive question.
  • In your survey instructions, inform participants how you will use the information they provide, including demographics. Just provide a brief overview. This is also a good place to explain how you’ll protect their privacy.
  • Place age range and other demographic questions at the end of the survey. They’ll feel less invasive to participants if they aren’t asked at the beginning of the survey. 

Trying to figure out how to determine age ranges for survey questions? There are many ways to list age group ranges for surveys. Some researchers prefer to create sets of five or ten-year intervals, while others ask by generation (Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen X, Gen Z, etc.). You can also use ranges based on general life stages (18-25, 25-35, etc.).

The range you use is up to you and what will work best with your survey goals.

You’re almost ready to create your own demographic questionnaire… but first, how about reviewing some tips to make sure that you implement the best practices in survey methodology?

  1. Think about your survey goal… Every survey starts when a goal is set. Looking at your main objective makes it easier to determine which demographic questions you will need to include.
  2. …but only include the demographic questions you need. Don’t overload your questionnaire, or you’ll risk inducing survey fatigue in your respondents.
  3. Be mindful of your audience. Keep phrasing respectful in demographic questions, since many of them deal with matters of personal identity like gender, race, ethnicity, etc.
  4. Know when to get personal. Just like an in-person conversation, first establish rapport with your respondent, then ask about personal matters. Read more on this post about sensitive questions.
  5. Don’t let numbers overlap. As in the income question example above, make sure that no two responses include the same number. For example, if one age bracket covers 50 to 59 years old, make sure the next one starts at 60—not at 59.
  6. Make responses anonymous. Many people are sensitive about offering their personal information. Demographic information examples where this can ring true, include: income level, employment status, race, and ethnicity. If you’re surveying for broad demographic patterns or trends, consider making responses anonymous—and be sure to let your respondents know that’s the case.
  7. Explain the purpose of your survey. In a brief introduction, tell your respondents how you’ll use the information. For example: “We want to know more about our customers and what they want. This information will help us put together the right mix of products and services to ensure your satisfaction.”
  8. Make your survey as accessible as possible. Reach as many people as possible. All of SurveyMonkey’s survey designs are accessible by U.S. Section 508 standards, and you can deliver them online in a variety of ways.
  9. Be brief. Shorter surveys are easier for respondents to complete. Let them know how long yours will take.

Online surveys are a great way to reach a broad audience. You can post demographic questionnaires to your website, send them through email, or ask for responses through Facebook and other social media channels.

If you need help reaching the right target audience, you can rely on a service that will get you enough respondents to conduct a successful survey with the right demographic mix. SurveyMonkey Audience not only makes it easy to find people who will take your survey, it also eliminates the need for them to even answer demographic questions.

How? Well, you can send your questionnaire to a selected group of respondents based on the demographic targets you want to reach. SurveyMonkey Audience knows who is taking the survey and therefore it can automatically pipe in five types of demographic information (gender, age, household income, device used to take the survey, and location) directly into your results. This saves the respondent time and ensures you’re reaching the right people.

Using the Filter and Compare tools in SurveyMonkey Analyze, you can easily compare and contrast how different demographic groups answer your questions. This makes demographic segmentation and data analysis with SurveyMonkey Audience even easier.

Now that you’ve seen what sample demographic questions actually look like, you can check out some ready-to-use demographic survey templates.

The following are templates, that include demographic survey questions, straight from the minds of SurveyMonkey’s expert survey methodologists:

* Please note that some demographics templates are available in English only at this time.

This six-question template asks respondents about gender, age, education, employment, household income, and race. View U.S. demographics, snapshot template.

In addition to the six questions posed in the Snapshot Template, this 12-question template asks about geographic location, housing, marital status, ethnicity, business or farm ownership, and personal income. View U.S. demographics, full template.

With two quick questions, learn about respondents’ employment status and the type of work they do. View employment template.

Discover the makeup of your school community with 16 basic demographic questions about gender, income, race, relationship to student, and more. View education demographics template.

Learn more about the companies on your customer list with this 10-question survey that asks when the company was founded, where it’s headquartered, number of employees and locations, and more. View firmographics template.

These B2B survey templates help your business clients understand their end customers. Demographic questions include age, gender, education level, employment status, annual household income, marital and family status, housing, business, and farm ownership. View target market demographics template and typical customer demographic template.

With this comprehensive guide to asking demographic questions on surveys, you’re ready to ask your target audience for all the information that you may need for your next project. Start your own survey now→. To create multiple surveys and gain access to various SurveyMonkey tools, choose the plan that’s right for you.

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