Standardized Survey Classifications - Individuals

These standardized survey classifications, and the questions constructed around them are used commonly in market research and other surveys for classification and/or as units of analysis.

The standardized survey classifications and related questions here from PGA Group Consulting Psychologists are about an individual’s sex, marital status, age, occupation (by activity, industry, degree of responsibility), and education.

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every-single-one-of-them-is-right!” - Kipling

Those wanting access to a greater or more diverse range of personal, occupational, educational, and socioeconomic standardized survey classifications could consult an expert in a related field.

Relevant experts include psychologists, market research specialists, economists, and sociologists. Alternatively, consult with an appropriate professional or trade body, e.g. the Market Research Society (MRS).

If you would like to see the live application of several standardized survey classifications questions for individuals (Sex, Age, Country, Occupational Group), please take a look at any of the free tests published on our public test site - the personal survey questions are asked at the end of each test, rather than at the beginning in order to help minimize the potential resistance of test-takers to completing the material.


No alternative methods are in regular use for classifying sex other than:

  • Male

  • Female

No significant difficulties are found in applying these categories.

Marital Status

Comprehensive classification categories are:

  • Single

  • Married

  • Widowed

  • Divorced

  • Separated

The convention is to add widowed, divorced, and separated together, and on surveys where the sample is small or the issue is not crucial, to combine this group with ‘single.’ This is because on most branded goods, their product purchasing behaviour is likely to be nearer to single than to married people.

A ‘common law’ marriage, civil partnership, and less permanent arrangements for cohabitation are usually coded as ‘married’ in market research if the respondent reports them as such.


While exact age or date of birth is sometimes recorded (the first age digit or decade of birth can serve as a variable for analysis), it is more usual on large samples to classify age into five, ten, or twenty year groups.

In deciding on a classification system, three points need to be considered:

  1. What are the cut off points (do you start at 10, 12, 15, 16, 18 or 21, do you stop at 50, 60 or 65?) or are there to be no exclusions by age?

  2. Requirements for setting quotas or validating a survey may require a more detailed age grouping than will be used for analysis.

  3. Is any particular age group of special significance in analysis?

Commonly used groups are:

  • 15-24

  • 25-34

  • 35-44

  • 45-54

  • 55-64

  • 65+

For smaller samples, four groups are often used:

  • 15-24

  • 25-44

  • 45-64

  • 65+

(Occasionally, a 12-14 age group is included in ‘adult’ surveys)

There is a general consensus of opinion in the market research community that more accurate information is obtained by taking categories that cut across decades, rather than coincide with them.


There is no system to describe occupation which is simple enough to be comprehensive when used universally. However, it is necessary in order to describe somebody’s occupation fully to collect data on several dimensions. Often, only one of these is directly relevant to the survey concerned.


  • Working full time (more than 30 hours a week)

  • Working part-time (8-30 hours a week)

  • Carer (of home, family, etc.) (full time)

  • Student (full-time)

  • Temporarily unemployed (but actively seeking work)

  • Retired

  • Other permanently unemployed (e.g. chronically sick, independent means)


The Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) of economic activity gives a comprehensive listing which is too elaborate for market research and other research purposes. See our Business Activity Classification (BAC) - SIC Alternative document for a lighter, condensed alternative to the SIC.

Size of organization (number of full-time employees)

Question: ‘Roughly, how many people are employed at the place where you work?’

  • 0-9

  • 10-24

  • 25-99

  • 100-249

  • 250+

‘Place’ refers to the establishment (or the address) rather than the organization if the organization owns several different work places. If this is not the case, a separate question is needed about the number of people employed ‘anywhere else.’

Degree of responsibility

Either (following ‘size of firm’)

  • ‘For how many of these people are you responsible?’


  • Self-employed

  • Senior Manager or Director (includes President, Vice President, etc.) (total responsibility)

  • Junior Manager (wide responsibility)

  • Supervisor (limited responsibility)

  • No responsibility for other people

or organizational level:

  • Top (Chief Executive, Chairperson, President)

  • Senior Executive (Departmental Head, Managing Director, Director, Vice President, Board Level, Professionals)

  • Upper Middle (Departmental Executives, Factory Managers, Senior Professional Staff)

  • Middle (Office Managers, Professional Staff, Mid-Level Administrators)

  • First Level (Forepersons, Supervisors)

  • Waged Staff (Machine Operators, Clerical/Secretarial and Support Staff, Technicians)

Education and terminal education age

Terminal education age is often used as a broad indicator of level of education. It is especially useful given the variety of school labels which may apply over time and across geographic regions.

Question: ‘How old were you when you finished your full-time education?’

The categories mainly used are:

  • 14 or under

  • 15

  • 16

  • 17

  • 18

  • 19+

  • still studying


  • 15 or under

  • 16-18

  • 19-23

  • 24+

  • still studying

or educational level:

Question: ‘What was your highest level when you finished your education?’

  • Secondary education - graduated without formal examination qualifications

  • Secondary education - graduated at ordinary or lower examination level

  • Secondary education - graduated at advanced or higher examination level

  • Uncompleted further education College or University

  • Graduate of any further education College or University

  • Masters

  • Doctorate

  • Post Doctorate


You may find these links on our site to be of interest:

Business Activity Classification (BAC) - SIC Alternative
The Business Activity Classification (BAC) of economic activity is a condensed, simplified alternative to the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC).

Employee Attitude Survey Case Study - Performance Turnaround
This case study is about how negative performance factors were identified and addressed to the benefit of the organization and its people.

Organizational Benchmark Survey Case Study - Identifying Need
This case study is about how this process helped an organization to identify need, focus priorities and develop new business opportunities.

Stress Audit Case Studies - Successful Stress Management At Work
The stress audit can be classed as a form of specialised survey. These case studies are about how the negative effects of stress at work were identified, addressed and relieved to the benefit of three organizations and their people.

Other relevant site navigation links appear at the foot of this page.

I hope you have found these standardized survey classifications from PGA Group Consulting Psychologists informative, useful and beneficial.

Should you have any questions, or would like further information, my team and I would be very happy to help. Details and an e-mail form to contact/locate us can be found here:

Peter Gerstmann
PGA Group Consulting Psychologists -

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