The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has today published an interim report as part of its review of statistics on gender identity based on data collected as part of the 2021 England and Wales Census. The review considers the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) approach to responding to questions raised by users about the gender identity data it published in January 2023. It does not consider gender identity as a concept or the decision to collect data on gender identity.

The gender identity question was asked in an England and Wales Census for the first time in 2021. In this context the ONS has said: “Gender identity refers to a person’s sense of their own gender, whether male, female or another category such as non-binary. This may or may not be the same as their sex registered at birth.”

ONS initiated a research programme into these statistics after some users raised concerns regarding the estimates of the transgender population in the first release of these statistics. ONS had planned to publish the results during Summer 2023, but this has been postponed and the research remains ongoing.

In light of this delay, we have produced an interim report. This sets out our findings based on OSR’s review of the testing, quality assurance, communication and engagement with users undertaken by ONS. The report found that:

  • ONS worked with good intentions when seeking to address an important data gap on gender identity.
  • The general approach taken by ONS to quality assure the data, when considering it alongside the other variables, was proportionate.
  • Given the concerns raised by users around this data from a new question, in a complex and contested area, with little data available for triangulation to be considered, it would be reasonable for users to expect clearer messaging on the impacts on quality and uncertainty.
  • The published communication to date does not sufficiently manage users’ expectations of what areas ONS’s research into these data is exploring and what it then might show. A more open approach would manage users’ expectations around the use of the data and lay the ground for any changes in advice on the use of this data resulting from ONS research.

As this interim report makes clear, there was always good reason to expect a significant degree of uncertainty around estimates of the transgender population derived from the gender identity question in the 2021 Census. A willingness on the part of ONS to provide further context and clarity on the initial estimates would be evidence of the strength of the Census process and not a weakness. ONS providing updates to the interpretation of these estimates should be regarded as a normal part of ongoing statistical production for a new area of data collection. The same would be true of any changes to the initial estimates, as long as they are fully and transparently explained. Such updates should not undermine user confidence in the robustness of the Census results as a whole, in which most questions have been asked many times before.

The report sets a range of recommendations for ONS to address to provide assurance on the gender identity data in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics. In particular the report recommends:

  • ONS should publish a statement within four weeks of this interim report that sets out a timeline for its ongoing research, covering what it is analysing and what it plans to publish by when.
  • ONS should make data available to understand subgroups of the reported transgender population.
  • ONS should consider any potential misunderstanding of the question or mode effects on the data as part of its analysis into the agreement rates for the gender identity question in the Census and Census Quality Survey. In particular, it should publish analysis of group differences to inform future use of the data and question.
  • As part of the ongoing development of the harmonised standard for gender identity, should the question remain the same, ONS should carry out further testing of the question.

OSR will publish a follow up report with its findings after it has reviewed, and engaged with users on, the full set of research. We expect ONS to take on board the findings and recommendations set out in this interim report as it works on developing the research reports for publication.

Editor’s notes

  1. OSR provides independent regulation of all official statistics produced in the UK. We aim to enhance public confidence in the trustworthiness, quality and value of statistics produced by government.
  2. OSR does this by setting the standards they must meet in the Code of Practice for Statistics. We ensure that producers of government statistics uphold these standards by conducting assessments against the Code.
  3. Part of our role as the statistics regulator is to investigate concerns on the quality, good practice and comprehensiveness of official statistics. It is not our role to moderate public discourse.
  4. OSR is currently working on a number of topics regarding data about sex and gender identity. More information about its work can be found on its sex and gender identity page.

Related Links:

Review of statistics on gender identity based on data collected as part of the 2021 England and Wales Census: interim report

Ed Humpherson to Jen Woolford – Review of 2021 England and Wales Census data on Gender Identity: Interim report

Ed Humpherson to Jen Woolford: Statistics on Gender Identity based on the 2021 England and Wales Census data

Ed Humpherson to Jen Woolford: Update on the Review of 2021 England and Wales Census data on Gender Identity

Our work on data about sex and gender identity