On Measuring Gender

As with most things sexual, people make methods of measuring gender more complicated than they need to be.

To find the most accurate method of measuring gender, let me begin by defining gender, then distinguishing its definition from biological sex’s and sexual orientation’s.

Gender is the biological, psychological, and sociological characteristics associated with biological sex.

Often these characteristics are described as masculine, feminine, or androgynous.

Gender is an “identity” relative to self and a “role” relative to society.

Biological sex is the genes, hormones, or organs necessary for reproduction.

When it comes to biological sex, all organisms are either sexual or asexual. Sexual organisms need another organism to reproduce, whereas asexual organisms can reproduce on their own.

Thus, human beings, biologically, are sexual organisms.

Sexual orientation is a person’s attraction to gender.

Attraction is a person’s capacity to elicit or feel pleasure or love.

Often this attraction is described as bisexual, heterosexual, or homosexual.

When given a choice, most people describe their gender beyond two categories.

To be clear, scientific research studies have not always found people describing their gender beyond two categories. However, this was the case because studies rarely allowed gender choices beyond two categories.

Science is no longer assuming binary gender categories, because the data are telling us otherwise.

For example, Dr. Peter Smith at the Institute for Work and Health, examined data taken from the 2014 Canadian Labour Force Survey, a survey composed of hundreds of thousands of people’s measures of their: responsibilities for taking care of children; occupations; hours of work; and levels of education.

Dr. Smith’s examination of these data yielded an 11-point measure of gender role, which he named the Labour Force Gender Index. The Labour Force Gender Index’s scores range from 0 to 10 with lower scores indicating masculine gender roles and higher scores indicating feminine gender roles.

Smith found women’s and men’s gender roles were represented across the range of Labour Force Gender Index scores.

Interestingly, Smith found this same representation of gender roles when he examined the 1997 Canadian Labour Force Survey dataset, which indicates gender roles, being beyond two categories, has been occurring for more than 20 years, and is therefore, not a fad-like or generation-specific phenomenon.

Scientists at YouGov.com found similar results to those reported by Dr. Smith. YouGov.com scientists asked a representative sample of 1,692 Great Britons and Americans to, “place themselves on a scale of masculinity / femininity, where 0 is completely masculine and 6 is completely feminine.”

Great Briton women’s and men’s gender identities were represented across the seven-point range. Although not as prominent, this representation also occurred for American women’s and men’s gender identities.

However, different from Dr. Smith’s findings, YouGov.com found a participant’s age affected their gender identity. Great Britons from 18 to 64 years of age best identified their genders using more than two categories, whereas Great Britons 65 years of age and older best identified their genders using one or two categories of gender.

One of the more recent scientific research studies on this topic was conducted within my laboratory. We asked a convenience sample of 413 people about their gender identity by having them move a virtual lever on a true continuum. We found 55% of people identified their genders within the continuum.

What can be concluded from these studies? Simple. Gender roles and identities are not categorical and may be best measured as continua.

For a video of this article, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bdzeo65lJI


Bradley, S. J., & Zucker, K. J. (1990). Gender identity disorder and psychosexual problems in children and adolescents. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry / La Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, 35, 477–486.

Lucas, D. R., Hanich Z., Gurian, A., Lee, S., & Sanchez, A. (2017). Measuring Sex, Gender, and Orientation on a True Continuum. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Psychological Association in San Antonio, Texas.

Pinn, V.W. (2019) Gender Bias: An Undesirable Challenge in Health Professions and Health Care. In: Martin M., Heron S., Moreno-Walton L., Strickland M. (eds) Diversity and Inclusion in Quality Patient Care. Springer, Champaign.

Smith, P. M., & Koehoorn, M. (2016). Measuring gender when you don’t have a gender measure: Constructing a gender index using survey data. International Journal for Equity in Health,15, 82–91.


Don Lucas is a Professor of Psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. He loves psychology, teaching, and research.

If you like this story, then check out Don’s videos on his YouTube channel, 5MIweekly: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQFQ0vPPNPS-LYhlbKOzpFw/featured, follow him on Instagram @5MIweekly, and like him on Facebook: http://fb.me/5MIWeekly




Everything you ever wanted to know about the science of sexuality, but were afraid to ask.

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Don Lucas

Don Lucas

I am a Professor of Psychology at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. My research focus is human sexuality. I also host a YouTube channel, 5MIweekly.

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