Myth busting – The sex question in Scotland’s 2021 census

This Thursday (9 January 2020) the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee will consider evidence related to the design of the sex question in Scotland’s 2021 census. Although the question wording and response options are now confirmed (What is your sex? Female, Male), debate continues about the guidance that will accompany the question.

This is important as guidance shapes the meaning of the question. Guidance will therefore advise respondents to answer in line with their ‘legal sex’ (a general definition does not exist in law but commonly relates to the sex marker on a person’s current birth certificate, male or female) or ‘lived sex’ (how a person identifies and is perceived by society).

During the past year, several myths have spread about the design and purpose of Scotland’s census. There exists a risk that these myths might detract from the weight of research and expert opinion of organisations including the National Records of Scotland and the Office for National Statistics.

This guide addresses these confusions head-on and provides seven helpful explainers that cover the use of census data, the alignment of the census with the 2010 Equality Act, international practice, past practice in Scotland and what is meant by self-identification.

Published by Kevin Guyan

Dr Kevin Guyan is a researcher and writer based in Edinburgh whose work explores the intersection of data and identity.

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