Home PublicationsCommentary The U.S. Government Should Better Collect Gender Data

The U.S. Government Should Better Collect Gender Data

by Gillian Diebold

Access to gender data—a term used both to refer to data disaggregated by gender as well as data on issues primarily affecting women and girls—helps decision-makers design more effective policies. For example, gender data can reveal disparities in access to public benefits, uncover trends on important issues such as maternal health, and raise awareness of opportunities to provide services to underserved populations. Given the importance of gender on different outcomes, better gender-disaggregated data will better inform policy.

While the U.S. government has been a leader in encouraging other countries, particularly developing nations, to improve gender data collection, it should do more to improve its own gender data. To date, much of the focus on improving access to gender data has been directed at developing nations and tied to efforts to track progress on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is much opportunity for improvement: no country collects data on more than 50 percent of SDG indicators for monitoring gender. International organizations like the World Bank, UN Women, and the OECD have developed their own gender statistics programs, and global initiatives like Data2X have worked to improve how national statistical agencies collect and monitor gender data.

But it is not only developing nations that should better collect gender data. For example, the United States does not collect data on the sending and receiving of remittances, an important indicator for SDG 1 (“No Poverty”) and SDG 10 (“Reduced Inequalities”) that when disaggregated by gender can reveal insights about diaspora communities in the country and their financial status.

Other times, the U.S. government collects gender data but in ways that reduce its utility. For example, different agencies collect data on sexual violence using different definitions. Unnecessary variations in methodologies and terminology for sexual violence make the data less understandable and useful. Similarly, the United States does not always follow the standard methodologies of other national statistical offices, which makes comparisons with other countries more difficult. For this reason, the World Bank’s gender data portal from the United States about the gender breakdown of business owners, although the U.S. Census Bureau collects this data. Finally, many U.S. government surveys miss entire demographic groups, such as those Americans whose gender identity may be outside the traditional binary.

Finally, sometimes the government collects data about gender but does not make it available. For example, the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data on state-level wealth and asset ownership does not have most categories disaggregated by gender. That means that, for example, users cannot view the combined relationship of gender and other characteristics like race, education, or health of household , even though the survey collects this information.

The Biden administration is making progress at improving gender data. In October 2021, the Biden administration published the National Strategy on Gender and Equality, a government-wide effort to advance equal rights, focusing on better gender data collection. The strategy explains the administration’s support for “collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data for all programs, to the maximum extent practicable” and its support for “efforts to close gender data gaps, including by investment in national and sub-national statistical systems strengthening.”

The administration has provided a welcome acknowledgment of the importance of gender data collection, particularly in areas like finance, technology, gender-based violence, and humanitarian aid, and the ways in which gender is often overlooked in data. The next step is to ensure agencies not only collect but also monitor and analyze newly collected gender data. Congress should also ensure agencies have funding for gender data collection and monitoring. In short, the Biden administration should support the continued efforts of international statistical organizations to improve gender data while continuing to build its own domestic statistical capacity in order to make more effective policy.

Image credit: Temple University 

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