British academics warn that census sex self-identification “will undermine data reliability”

In a letter sent to census authorities, dozens of academics said they “are concerned that this will damage our ability to capture and remedy sex-based inequality”.

Evangelical Focus

LONDON · 23 DECEMBER 2019 · 10:13 CET

Photo: Delia Giandeini (Unsplash, CC0),
Photo: Delia Giandeini (Unsplash, CC0)

Around 80 British academics have warned that allowing people to self-identify their gender on the 2021 census, will make it unreliable.

The census takes place every 10 years and is intended to give an accurate analysis of the UK population.

It is overseen by the Office for National Statistics, which said they “are continuing to ask the binary choice male/female sex question. This approach is unchanged since 1801”.

However, “for those who wish to tell us about different gender identities, we propose adding an additional voluntary question on this subject for people aged 16 and over”, the Office added.

Under guidance, respondents will be able to answer the question according to their own self-identification.



In a letter sent to census authorities and published in Sunday Times, the academics said that “as social statisticians, quantitative social scientists and epidemiologists, we are concerned about the proposed online guidance, which advises respondents that they may respond in terms of their self-identified gender”.

“We welcome the decision to include a voluntary question on gender identity in the 2021 census in England, Wales and Scotland, but sex and gender identity are distinct and should not be conflated”, they added.

Furthermore, academics pointed out that “the guidance will effectively transform the longstanding sex question into a question about gender identity”.



“We are concerned that this will undermine data reliability on a key demographic variable and damage our ability to capture and remedy sex-based discrimination and inequality”, they stressed.

In September, a group of social science researchers asked the Scottish parliament to ensure that the census asks people to report their legally recognised, rather than self-identified, sex.

Medicine experts also expressed their concern about the free election of one’s sex in official documents, which could affect the medical treatments of patients.

“Almost every kind of illness behaves differently in men and women”, a doctor told English newspaper Mail on Sunday.

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