How to Ask about Age on Surveys
This week we published Versta Research’s quarterly newsletter with a feature article entitled “Wisdom in an Age-Old Question.” While it might seem simple to ask a person’s age on a survey, it turns out that there are all sorts of ambiguities and documented sources of error in the various ways you might ask it. Fortunately, there are best practices based on our collective wisdom as an industry, and from important findings from academic colleagues who study and publish research about research.
For example, here are a few of the best practices to keep in mind:
- When asking for age or age category in an online survey, avoid using drop-down menus for response options
- If asking for year born, require respondents to provide all four digits
- If using an open-ended box for respondents to insert age or year born, give explicit instructions and examples of appropriate ways to fill in the box
- Don’t ask “How old are you?” on a mail survey; instead ask for year born, and give instructions to provide all four digits
Our newsletter outlines the whys, the wherefores, the best practices, and the gremlins (four potential sources of survey error) to beware of. Asking the age question correctly will give you confidence that your data are as clean, accurate, and precise as can be.
–Joe Hopper, Ph.D.