UBC Faculty Research and Publications

“Are You a Boy or a Girl?”—A Missing Response Analysis Heinz, Andreas; Költő, András; Taylor, Ashley B.; Chan, Ace


Many adolescent health surveys ask if respondents are male or female. Non-response may be due to fear of de-anonymisation or being a gender-nonconforming youth. The present study investigates the frequency of non-response and its potential reasons. To this end, data from 54,833 adolescents aged 11–18 from six countries, participating in the 2018 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, were analysed. Respondents were divided into three groups: (1) “Responders” who answered both questions on age and gender, (2) “Age non-responders” who did not answer the question on age, and (3) “Gender non-responders” who answered the question on age but not the one on gender. These groups were compared regarding their non-response to other questions and regarding their health. Overall, 98.0% were responders, 1.6% were age non-responders and 0.4% were gender non-responders. On average, age non-responders skipped more questions (4.2 out or 64) than gender non-responders (3.2) and responders (2.1). Gender non-responders reported more psychosomatic complaints, more frequent substance use and lower family support than responders. This study shows that age and gender non-responders differ in their response styles, suggesting different reasons for skipping the gender question. The health disparities found between the groups suggest that further research should use a more nuanced approach, informed by LGBT+ youth’s insights, to measure sex assigned at birth and gender identity.

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