The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is currently investigating whether the 2021 Office for National Statistics (ONS) census produced inaccurate data on England and Wales’s transgender population. This follows the unexpected revelation that 262,000 people identified as a different gender than their biological sex, equating to roughly 0.5% of the population.
University of Oxford professor Michael Biggs told the Spectator that the numbers were “not plausible”. He pointed out that data indicates those who reported struggling with English were more likely to be counted as transgender. Non-native English speakers were, in fact, five times more likely to identify as transgender in the census.
The question under scrutiny is: “Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?” It is believed that the wording may have confused non-native English speakers. Professor Biggs stated that the question was posed in this manner after consulting with LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall.
The survey revealed that the London boroughs of Newham and Brent, both of which have a significant number of residents whose first language is not English, recorded the highest proportion of transgender people. While non-native English speakers made up only 10 per cent of the overall population, they accounted for 29 per cent of the transgender numbers. Additionally, the census reported that one in every 67 Muslim people in England and Wales is transgender.
Conducted every 10 years, the 2021 census marked the first time that gender identity was explored. Professor Biggs criticised the ONS, stating that they “screwed up” and had “never thought about how a Bangladeshi grandmother or a Hungarian plumber will think about this question”.
The ONS is now collaborating with the OSR to determine whether the question on gender identity might have confused participants. An ONS spokesman stated, “The Census results are broadly consistent with separate NHS data collected in the same year.”
He added that the question on gender identity was rigorously tested and translated into nearly 50 languages to ensure comprehension. Despite these efforts, the spokesman acknowledged that “it is possible that individual responses were affected by different interpretations of the question and we will do more work to understand whether that was an issue”.
As this was the first time the census asked about gender identity and the proportion of respondents reporting a gender identity different from their sex at birth was relatively small, analysing the responses to this question is more difficult than with other census variables. The ONS plans to publish additional research on this topic later in the year.
The spokesman concluded by saying that the ONS had consulted with numerous groups and conducted extensive testing, including running a census rehearsal in diverse areas around England and Wales, with a particular focus on areas with high numbers of non-English speakers.