Political Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 1019–1041 | Cite as

Sex isn’t Gender: Reforming Concepts and Measurements in the Study of Public Opinion

  • Amanda BittnerEmail author
  • Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant
Original Paper


The importance of sex and gender to political behavior is reflected in the volume of work examining gender gaps in public opinion and partisan choice. Despite their centrality, sex and gender are poorly measured in survey research. The principal problem is the conflation of gender with sex in survey research. Consequently, gender is typically treated as a dichotomy, with no response options for androgynous gender identities, or indeed degrees of identification with masculine or feminine identities. We compare a new measure of genuine gender identification with a conventional measure of biological sex to determine whether the practice of using sex as a proxy for gender is sound. Sex is a fair proxy for gender, but for about a quarter of our sample, it is not. Moreover, greater nuance is gained when analyses incorporate a finer-grained measure of gender than is possible by using biological sex as a substitute. We argue that this is simply the start to an important conversation and that more research is needed to ascertain how we might best measure “gender” in the future.


Gender Sex Measurement Survey research Gender gap 



We gratefully acknowledge the indispensable contribution of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to this research (Grant #435-2014-0307). The authors wish to thank a number of scholars who have commented on earlier drafts of this paper. In particular, we wish to thank Brenda O’Neill, Elisabeth Gidengil, Joni Lovenduski (for both inspiring this project and for commenting on an earlier draft of the paper), Kathleen Dolan, Kira Sanbonmatsu, Rosie Campbell, Sue Carroll, and Melanee Thomas for their careful read of the paper and for their suggestions for future research in this area. We would also like to thank Scott Matthews, Fred Cutler, Stuart Soroka, and Richard Johnston for their feedback on earlier drafts. Thanks are also due to Rebecca Wallace and Jacob Robbins-Kanter for research assistance. Many thanks to the three anonymous reviewers at Political Behavior, who pushed us on both the theory and data, and resulted in a much stronger paper. This study was supported by Grant 410-2011-0634.

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9391_MOESM1_ESM.docx (133 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 132 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Memorial UniversitySt. John’sCanada
  2. 2.Queen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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