Should the census include sexual orientation?

An interesting article in the NZ Herald on the issue of whether there should be a question in the on .

As someone who uses census data a lot, it would be incredibly interesting to have reliable information on sexual orientation demographics. There is almost no “hard” data anywhere in the world on how many people are gay, lesbian or bisexual. The old “common” figure of 10% is now widely seen as too high and 4% is thought to be closer.

Some will say, why should we even have demographic data on sexual orientation. Well for the same reasons we have data on gender, age, ethnicity, income, and location.

Now I’m one of those who wouldn’t care a fig if the census asked me my sexual orientation. However I can understand that it would be seen as pretty intrusive or worse by many respondents, and could affect the overall Census data.

And there is some potential for real problems to be caused in families. If you are bisexual and haven’t got around to mentioning this to your wife, then having her see you having ticked it on your census form isn’t the best way to let her know 🙂

Even if one got over the issue of alienating some respondents with such a question, a complicating issue is how do you define heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

Many homosexuals (well of those I know) have had sex with women. However they do not see themselves as bisexual. It was just a phase they say 🙂

The Dominion Post looks at this issue:

“Behaviour” describes whether someone’s partners are of the same or opposite sex; “identity” – their view of themselves as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual; and “attraction”, which sex or sexes they are attracted to.

Again it is not as simple as people may think. A surprisingly high number of women (again based on people I know) have actually had sex or made out with another woman. But they don’t regard themselves as bisexual. It was just experimenting for many of them.

If I was designing the census I guess I would use the “attraction” definition as identity is so variable and behaviour may just reflect lack of opportunity or follow through.

Also please don’t turn this thread into a debate on what you think of homosexuals or lesbians. This is about whether we should have reliable data on the prevalance of various sexual orientations.

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