Is it Necessary To Ask Demographics in Every Survey?


What is your age? How old are you now? And how about now?

People who answer surveys dislike getting asked the same basic demographic questions over and over again. And who can blame them? In a world where your browser will autofill many online forms for you, it feels old-fashioned (and annoying!) to have to answer the same questions every time you do a survey.

The reason we ask the questions over and over again is a concern that things may have changed: maybe you lost a job, got a raise, had a birthday or graduated from school. Another concern is that perhaps two people—say a husband and wife—share an email address and both do surveys when they see the invitation. These are reasonable concerns, but how often does that happen?

We know people get a year older once every 365 days, but people cross age categories every 15 years or so. People do graduate from university, but that would most often happen once in their life, and it would take about four years. And people’s incomes do fluctuate, but the question is how often do they move between income bands?

In our work, we must balance the need for accuracy with the desire to treat people like they want to be treated. So, we did a test. We surveyed over 4,000 people in the U.S. and Canada. We asked the standard questions about age, gender, address, income and education. Then we compared that information with information we have on file, from their profiling questionnaire—which we update periodically.

When we compared the survey results and the demographic data we had on file, we found that they matched almost exactly. Below the U.S. data is blue and the Canadian data is red.


These findings, replicated in two separate studies and combined here, show remarkable accord—ranging from between 99.3% and 96.3% match. This is particularly notable given that change does occur, and that people aren’t robots, and occasionally make a mistake and hit the wrong button.

These findings are from our Springboard America and Maru Voice Canada market communities which have been proven to be accurate, and even boringly predictable.

So what?

These results enable us to free respondents from having to answer demographic questions on every single survey. That is welcome news for the people who answer our surveys.

To learn more about what people like and dislike about the survey experience, check out our blogs Why People Do Surveys and A Better Survey Experience: What People Dislike About Surveys. To understand how profiling can also help improve the respondent experience read Profiling People: A Better Survey Experience Yields Better Data by Rob Berger of our sister company Maru/Blue, a premium quality data services company.

Now that you’ve reached the end of the article, I have one more question: how old are you now?

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