Survey Age Ranges and Demographics

Philip Enders Arden September 13, 2013

Age is just a number, except when it really matters. At the AMA 2008 Market Research Conference in Boston, two expert speakers offered exciting perspectives on the importance of age ranges for survey questions. Their presentations discussed how generational differences might affect research data

J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich, focused on Boomers with his presentation, From One Generation to Another: A Yankelovich MONITOR Perspective on the Resurging Marketplace Importance of Cohorts. Brad Karsh of JB Training Solutions, focused on Millenials with Dude, What’s My Job? Managing Millennials in Today’s Workforce.

Here’s Smith’s segmentation of generations:






52 million

78 million

57 million

51 million

Both speakers did a good job at presenting the differences between generations in an entertaining way, from the serious to the silly.  Smith again:





Their War

World War 2


Gulf War

War on terrorism

Their Doctor

Dr. Spock

Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Kevorkian

Dr. Phil

(As older X-ers, we would have chosen McCoy.)

Here are some stats that contrast Boomers and Generation X-ers, showing X-ers’ greater focus on their finances:

  • In 1974, 51% of Boomers were interested in saving for retirement; at a comparable age, in 1998, 73% of X-ers were interested in saving for retirement. 
  • Where 63% of Boomers were concerned “about understanding my own reasons for doing things,” only 27% of X-ers expressed the same sentiment in 2002, at a similar age. 
  • In 1967, as incoming college freshmen, 82% of Boomers were going to college to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life” (their number one reason); in 2003, that was the last reason for X-ers, 74% of whom said “being very well off financially” was their reasoning for attending college.

So, a compelling case can be made for looking at different age groups for survey data.  Unfortunately, too many times, that can’t be done because the age survey question used won’t support it. 

Why Is Age Range Important in Research?

As researchers, why do we need to worry about age ranges for survey data? The main reason is perspective. Respondents of different age, ethnicity, or race may see life through a different lens.

Using age brackets for survey data with the right survey questions can offer a deeper analysis of your results. It can also help you drill down on the sampling methodology. If you’re looking to conduct a survey by cluster random sampling, using age ranges for survey data may allow you to group your sample into clusters that are more representative of the overall population.

Breaking survey data down by age group can also help with convenience sampling. Using a convenience sample is known to bias survey results. Grouping the respondent data by age gives researchers a parameter to qualify their survey results. Now, the survey can be easily published with a footnote denoting the weight of each response by age range.

It’s also worth discussing how using age ranges for survey data can help researchers gain further insight into simple questionnaires like unipolar and bipolar formats. These formats refer to scaling systems used in survey questions. A unipolar survey asks respondents to consider only one attribute. In contrast, a bipolar survey asks respondents to consider two.

A simple example to illustrate both concepts would be a satisfaction survey. If respondents were given choices ranging from not at all satisfied to completely satisfied, this would be a unipolar survey. If it were bipolar, respondents would be able to select choices ranging from completely dissatisfied to neutral to completely satisfied.

Think of each survey as a “timeline.” Unipolar only travels in one direction (), and bipolar travels in opposite directions ().


An Example of An Age Survey Question

The following is a popular type of demographic question for age, this one taken from the profile questionnaire for the American Marketing Association itself:

Age Range

[ ] 21 and Under

[ ] 22 to 34

[ ] 35 to 44

[ ] 45 to 54

[ ] 55 to 64

[ ] 65 and Over

[ ] Decline

Many marketing experts feel that age survey questions are unnecessary. They think it makes the survey too long and distracts from the original intent. But, if this question is asked in the right way, it can provide you and your team with new levels of insight into your survey data. 

You may even discover new trends in the data that let you change your marketing to be most effective with a particular age range.

Surveying for All Ages

Using age ranges for survey data can be a powerful tool. As researchers, we’re always looking for more data and insight to help us deliver what our employees and customers want. 

If you need a flexible, scalable solution to create and deploy surveys at the right time and place, learn more about Verint Survey Management to see how you can turn your data into better insights.