Stonewall’s census question exaggerated trans numbers

Apr 19, 2023

The transgender population of the UK may have been overestimated in the census, experts have said.

The statistics regulator is examining concerns raised by academics that the wording of the question about gender identity confused those whose first language is not English.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is responsible for the census on behalf of the Government, 262,000 people, or 0.5% of the over-16 population, identified as transgender in England and Wales in 2021.

But Dr Michael Biggs, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Oxford, believes the question posed on gender identity may have been confusing for non-native English speakers.

Analysing the data, he found that one in every 67 Muslims in England and Wales identified in the census as transgender, a figure he says is “not plausible”. He also found those who did not speak English well were five times more likely to be transgender than those whose main language is English.

Rather than asking straightforwardly, “Are you transgender?” the census question posed was more like a riddle: “Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?”

This has led, it appears, to people misunderstanding the question and answering ‘no’, perhaps thinking they are saying they are not transgender, when they mean ‘yes’, their ‘gender identity’ aligns with their biological sex. How many misunderstood it in this way is impossible to say, but the high proportion of people with poor English among the ‘transgender’ population indicates it is considerable.

Prof Biggs suggests the authors of the census “never thought about how a Bangladeshi grandmother or a Hungarian plumber will think about this question”.

The problem seems to stem from the involvement of Stonewall and other LGBT lobby groups in the preparation of the census. According to Prof Biggs, Stonewall was consulted on the inclusion of the gender identity question. The ONS says it trialled the question with “community testing at LGBT History Month events” – in other words, with those aware of the latest gender theory jargon, not the wider population.

What a mess, and what a wasted opportunity to get some accurate figures on the prevalence of transgenderism to inform public debate and decision-making. At C4M, we call on the ONS, Government and others not to use these skewed statistics, at least while the matter is being investigated by the regulator, and to take greater care in future to keep lobby groups at arm’s length.