The human element is one of the most important aspects of any study. The responses to a survey must be given context by associating them with the characteristics of the population being observed.

Demographics is the study of human population, where people are described in terms of basic features like age, gender, religion, language, education, occupation, income, and wealth.

Population distribution is another important part of demographic study and can be defined at multiple levels (regional, national, and global) and with different types of boundaries (political, economic, and geographic).

All demographic attributes that we have mentioned so far have one thing in common — they are very precise in nature but also increasingly superfluous in today’s world. Drawing inferences based on the demographics of your sample population may often be a long shot. Social planning, market research, insurance forecasting and labour market analysis have long relied on demographics. But as the world has grown in complexity, demographic studies have been found wanting.

Lumping together a particular geographic or ethnic group and labelling them with certain expected behavioral traits is an oversimplification of the population that won’t do in our interconnected world.

For instance, the Census of India aims at quantifying the population. Its bases are defined and measurable. Questions such as age, gender, working/non-working members, and income are enough to define the employed versus dependent population. However, the same set of demographic questions gives us no knowledge about the taste of music of a certain population. Even if we localize all women of a certain age group in a given state, we will not be able to pinpoint the most appreciated kind of music in the group. This is where psychographic questions come into play.

Psychographics focus on the more intangible aspects of a population — lifestyle, personality, opinions, values and cultural touchstones. Categorizing the population on these parameters can be useful in making sense of a study and gleaning insights for social and economic decision making.

demographic questions

If a radio station conducts a psychographic survey before launching in a new city, the questions might look something like this:

  1. Why do you listen to music in the morning?
    1. To relax
    2. To start a successful day
    3. To gear up to exercise
    4. d) To enjoy time with family
  2. What does music mean to you? ____ (open ended question)

While one woman in her late 50s could answer that music is her way of staying in touch with the movies of her era, another young girl could tell us that contemporary music is her source of inspiration to choreograph new dance pieces.

The term psychographics first came into use around World War I to describe a method of classifying people by their physical appearance, but not by traditional demographics. It was later used during the 1920s to describe a technique for classifying people by certain attitudes. By 1967, psychographics was a standard quantitative way of getting qualitative data about people. A computer clustering program made it possible to predict the chances of selling a product or an idea to a segment and deciding the most suitable medium for doing so.

Since psychographic and demographic studies are so different, they require different approaches to formulating questions, identifying sources for data collection, classifying and profiling the sample population, and making decisions based on the results of the study.

Data collection for psychographic and demographic studies

Since demographics is a more exact science, more demographic data sets have inherently been created over the years. These can be reliably drawn upon for many purposes. For example, to ascertain the number of children aged between 4 and 7 years old in a particular area, you can get a reliable number by referring to the latest statistics compiled by the government. Even if the required data cannot be found anywhere, conducting a survey to gather such information is a fairly straightforward, standardized process.

On the other hand, psychographic data collection must be tailor-made to suit the requirements of the study. This is because psychographic data points usually are uncommon and haven’t been studied much. Information about the comfort level that parents have while leaving their kids at day care centers, for instance, will need to be collected through primary research with active involvement and inputs from the research team.

You can put these ideas into practice by applying the appropriate data collection methods and picking the right data collection tools for the job.

Writing psychographic and demographic questions

Demographic studies largely deal with facts. They can give insights about the age, occupation and location of a person through simple, direct questions.

Psychographic studies, however, aim to achieve a deeper level of understanding about the person’s tastes, preferences, opinions and line of thinking. Since these attributes vary immensely from person to person, collecting psychographic data needs a more perceptive line of questioning.

While a regular survey might do the job for demographic data, psychographic studies often require considerable amount of thought while designing the survey and a skilled interviewer to make the most of the survey. Psychographic studies also need a larger proportion of open-ended questions to account for the possible variability in individual responses.

demographic questions

Here’s more on how to design a survey and choose the right question types to optimize your survey.

For example, below is a part of a survey that a car accessories showroom would send out to understand market demand in a given locality.

This questionnaire would result in more relevant information because it has a mix of both psychographic and demographic questions.

Segmentation and profiling

Analyzing the population for a survey and making sense of their responses can seem like an uphill task. Categorizing your population based on the purpose of the study goes a long way in making this process easier. Once you have selected a sample as a representative subset of the population, classify them into segments based on suitable parameters. The common demographic parameters are age, gender, occupation, location, and family status.

Samples can be also segmented based on psychographics like activities, interests, opinions, attitudes, values, and behavior. A psychographic approach to segmentation and profiling can have a massive influence on decisions made from the study.

A demographic survey with me as the subject, for instance, would reveal a 24-year-old male working in a private sector company in Mumbai. This is useful information, no doubt. However, a well-designed psychographic study can go a step further to identify that I am a person who lives in a rented apartment with roommates, relies on tiffin services for daily meals, and loves traveling through the city looking for hidden treasures. Services based on this information are more likely to get a good reception than services based on my demographic information.

Both demographic and psychographic analysis can be very powerful and effective if used in the right ways. In the end, it often comes down to the art and science of putting together a meaningful story based on what you see.


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