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How to ask the age question to improve international studies
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Date 30 August
Author Kathy Joe

ESOMAR has developed a recommendation on how to ask the age question in a way that is comparable from project to project and is also good practice from a privacy point of view and more considerate of participants. The question should lead to more accurate information, lower participant drop-out and less privacy exposure for suppliers and clients. 

The process of describing and defining populations is currently very varied. Methods differ from one research company to the next, measures go quickly out of date, and research respondents don’t always give a proper answer to some demographic questions, and this results in poor-quality data.

For instance, when asked about their age, “How old are you?” or “What is your age?” some people give the wrong answer, as they might wish to appear younger, or they don’t want to scroll down lots of years to come to their year of birth. Other people might not like being asked a question they have already been asked when signing up for a panel. Plus, many clients use different age bands, depending on the segment in which they are interested. All this leads to inconsistencies which create barriers in the exchange of international data making it difficult to compare the results of data from one country or one study to another.

ESOMAR’s new recommendation, founded on evidence-based best practice, will improve quality standards, and produce results that are more comparable from one project/region to another thus facilitating multi-country research projects. With growing levels of international market research, this will help researchers and clients everywhere to improve research standards.

Who’s working on it?

An expert project team from a range of international suppliers, has reviewed best practice to describe demographic questions in as globally consistent a way as possible to develop a best practice recommendation for key geographies worldwide. The proposal has been validated by ESOMAR’s Professional Standards Committee.

The recommendation was sent to a Client Sounding Board from global companies such as the BBC, Coca-Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Diageo, Etisalat, Google, Microsoft, Mondalez China, Nissan, P&G and Unilever for comment and possible implementation to ensure it fits their requirements. With the Board’s help, we have fine-tuned the proposal to speed up adoption and some clients will be applying or trialing the recommendation in their international work.

The team is chaired by Judith Passingham, chair of ESOMAR's Professional Standards Committee and Jon Puleston of Kantar, and a member of the Standards Committee. Next up, the team will tackle the gender and working status questions with income and education level measures also on the list. 

You can pre-order the first report here. The full release will happen on the 20th of September, at Congress Toronto.

Kathy Joe
ESOMAR Staff, Research World Editorial Consultant at ESOMAR