Traditional estimates project that roughly 2% of teenagers — and the population as a whole — identify as gender-diverse, but a new study in Pittsburgh places that number at least five times higher, saying that nearly 10% of teens admit to having some form of nontraditional gender identity. If the stats from this new study hold true across the nation, then the number of individuals who consider themselves transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer, or who identify outside traditional gender norms could be vastly higher than previously thought.
The newly released data comes from a study of 3,168 high school students conducted in Pittsburgh by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the UCLA School of Medicine.
Dan Avery of NBC News reported on the study, where researchers “found that nearly 1 in 10 students in over a dozen public high schools identified as gender-diverse — five times the current national estimates.”
According to the American Psychological Association, a gender-diverse person is defined as anyone whose gender identities or gender expressions differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.
In total, 291 of students surveyed in the study — or 9.2% of the total group — reported at least some type of incongruity between their current gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth.
“Of those gender-diverse youths, about 30% expressed transmasculine identities and about 39% expressed transfeminine identities,” Avery reported. “People with nonbinary identities were about 31% of the total.”
While the number of individuals who identify as gender-diverse in this new study is vastly higher than previously seen estimates, the study’s author, Dr. Kacie Kidd, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine fellow at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, said the new estimate is not because of any recent drastic changes in culture or society. Instead, it’s because previous researchers simply didn’t use the right terminology or methodology in their studies.
Kidd cited the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which polled more than 118,000 students and was last administered in 2017. When it came to gender identity, the survey only had one question: “Do you identify as transgender?” “Yes, No, or Not sure?”
“Of course, not everyone who is gender-diverse identifies as transgender,” Kidd said. “We worried that that language didn’t encompass the breadth of gender-diverse identities we see, particularly in young people.”
To combat that problem, Kidd’s survey was much more thorough, asking respondents to identify their assigned sex (i.e., “the sex you were assigned at birth, on your birth certificate”), as well as asking respondents to describe their gender expression with options like “girl,” “boy,” “trans girl,” “trans boy,” “genderqueer,” “nonbinary” and “another identity.”
With the more open and revealing question that emphasizes self-identification, Kidd believes her study has captured a much more honest representation of gender identity in today’s youth — or at least presents a less biased estimate of how prevalent gender-diverse identification is among the population.
The Pittsburgh study also revealed a number of other interesting and intersectional disparities that Kidd hopes to continue researching. Among them: “7.1% of gender-diverse youths identified as white, compared to 9.9% who identified as Black, 14.4% as Hispanic, 8.7% as multiracial and 13.4% as another race.”
According to Kidd, those figures may help to illuminate some of the racial and ethnic disparities seen in individuals coming to her clinic for access to gender-affirmative care, which she says is predominantly “masc-identified and white,” noting that this doesn’t correspond with the data from the new Pittsburgh study.
“We know that gender-diverse young people face health disparities as a whole and that young people of color also face more health disparities,” Kidd said. “The intersection of those two communities is one of concern for us. We need to make sure that we are serving all of the young people who would benefit from the care we provide.”