There is a new government Working Group on Sex and Gender in data, but what definitions are they using?

The National Records of Scotland have published their report about the Census sex question and its accompanying guidance. They have recommended that the Scottish Government collect statistics not by sex but by gender identity. See report here.

They have done this despite strong recommendations from academics and experts in statistical analysis to not conflate sex with gender identity. Details can be found here


The United Nations produced a manual on how to incorporate accurate and reliable statistics regarding gender, including information on how this should operate at organisational level, within Governments and national statistical offices, like those responsible for the Census.

Below are some quotes from that manual.

“National statistical offices need to work with …regional organizations and agencies and academic and research institutions to mainstream gender in the development and revision of concepts, definitions and methods of collecting data …”

“on topics where methods are inadequate. This collaboration extends to all methodological issues, including the design of survey questionnaires or modules within questionnaires, the revision of international classifications and standards and the development of analytical methods”

“Confusion between “sex” and “gender” still persists among producers and users of statistics”

“The word “sex” refers to biological differences between women and men. Biological differences are fixed and unchangeable and do not vary across cultures or over time.”

“”Gender”, meanwhile, refers to socially‐constructed differences in the attributes and opportunities associated with being female or male and to social interactions and relationships between women and men.”

“In most societies, there are differences and inequalities between women and men in terms of roles and responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources and decision‐making opportunities.”

“These differences and inequalities between the sexes are shaped by the history of social relations and change over time and across cultures.”

“The term “gender” has often been wrongly used in association with data. “Gender disaggregation” or “data disaggregated by gender” are incorrect terms. “

“Gender statistics are disaggregated by sex, an individual‐level characteristic commonly recorded in censuses, surveys and administrative records, not by gender, a social concept relevant at the level of a population group.”

“When data on demographic, social or economic characteristics are collected in the field, it is the sex of a person that is recorded, as female (woman) or male (man), not the gender.”

“Sex‐disaggregated data, however, when analysed, have the capacity to reveal differences in women’s and men’s lives that are the result of gender roles and expectations.”

“Gender statistics can show whether women and men have unequal access to education, health or economic resources and orient policies towards improving opportunities for the disadvantaged sex and a more effective use of both female and male Human Resources.”

“A dialogue should be fostered between national statistical offices and interested stakeholders, including women’s groups.”

“The general approach in the development of gender statistics has involved efforts to promote dialogue and understanding between statisticians and the various users of statistics— policy-makers, representatives of non‐governmental organizations, activists and researchers.”

“All national statistical systems produce statistics disaggregated by sex.”

“The word “sex” refers to biological differences between women and men. Biological differences are fixed and unchangeable and do not vary across cultures or over time.”


When the National Records of Scotland return their census statistics to Eurostat, how will they be able to identify important information, e.g. the number of same sex marriages, or civil partnerships?

The redefinition of a value like sex goes against the global standards of mainstreaming data collection.


‘The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) was established to contribute to and strengthen the promotion of gender equality, including gender mainstreaming in all EU policies and the resulting national policies, and the fight against discrimination based on sex.’

EIGE definition of Sex: Biological and physiological characteristics that define humans as female or male.

“EIGE operates within the framework of European Union policies and initiatives. The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union defined the grounds for the Institute’s objectives and … “

“tasks in its Founding Regulation and assigned it the central role of addressing the challenges of and promoting equality between women and men across the European Union.”

The EIGE refers to the United Nations Manual (as quoted above) for its definitions and other information on Gender Statistics. See here.

The EIGE Glossary uses the correct term sex-disaggregated data and does not use incorrect terms like “Gender disaggregation” or “data disaggregated by gender”. They are very clear that gender statistics are disaggregated by sex. See here.


Yet here in Scotland we have somehow along the way lost this crucial point to why we collect and analyse this data on women and men.

Terms like ‘self identified sex’ or ‘lived sex’ do not exist in any legal framework or policies adopted in Europe or worldwide.


The Scottish Government have established a new working group on sex and gender in data headed by Chief Statistician Roger Halliday. Let’s hope the standards and definitions as set by the EIGE and UN are respected and implemented across Scotland.


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