Rising share of Americans say gender determined by birth-assigned sex, poll finds

Anna Moneymaker
·4 min read

A majority of Americans favor protecting transgender people from discrimination, but a rising share say a person's gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, and most support trans sports bans, a new poll from the Pew Research Center found.

The survey of more than 10,000 adults, which was conducted May 16-22 and published Tuesday, found that 60% say a person's gender is determined at birth, up from 56% in 2021 and 54% in 2017.

Views on gender identity differ by age groups and even more sharply by political affiliation. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a different gender than the one assigned to them at birth, compared with about 4 in 10 of those ages 30 to 49 and about a third of those 50 and older, the report found. Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party were four times more likely than Republicans and conservative-leaning people to say that someone’s gender can be different than the one assigned to them at birth.

The new poll also shed light on how people in the United States feel about one of the most politically debated issues regarding trans people — whether they should be allowed to compete on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) support policies that would require transgender athletes to compete on sports teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth, the survey found.

Of the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills filed in recent years — over 670 since 2018, according to an NBC News analysis — measures that would limit trans people’s participation in sports have been among the most popular and politically contentious in the nation’s state legislatures. Eighteen states have enacted the bills into law within recent years, with Louisiana doing so earlier this month.

Proponents of transgender sports bans say they are protecting fairness in women’s sports, arguing that trans girls and women have inherent advantages over cisgender girls and women.

Critics say the measures are less about protecting women’s sports and more about discriminating against trans people.

Gillian Branstetter, a communications strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union, said she is not surprised by the new data, but argued that the survey should not inform policy.

“A human right should not be determined by popular support,” she said. “That’s why it’s called a right.”

The issue has also sparked heated debate within the international sporting community. In January, the NCAA instituted a sport-by-sport policy for transgender athletes, allowing each sport’s national governing body to determine its own rules. The International Olympic Committee adopted similar guidelines last year.

Most sporting bodies have yet to adapt new guidelines in response, but last week, the ​​International Rugby League and FINA — an international water sports governing body — both banned transgender players from elite international competition in some capacity.

The Pew survey also found that large swaths of Americans support several other policies that would limit transgender rights in areas of government documentation, health care and education.

More than 60% of adults say government-issued documents that ask about a person’s gender — including passports and driver’s licenses — should not include options other than “male” and “female.” Since April, the Department of State has allowed Americans to select the gender neutral “X” option as a marker on their passports.

A smaller percentage of Americans favor policies that would make it illegal for health care professionals to provide gender-affirming care to minors (46%), public school teachers to teach about gender identity in elementary schools (41%) and government officials to investigate parents for child abuse if they help their children attain health care related to transitioning (37%).

Pew researchers also revealed that the fundamental belief about whether gender can differ from sex assigned at birth is closely linked to Americans' views on trans issues. The report found that Americans who say a person's gender can be different from their sex at birth are more likely to see society's lack of acceptance of and see discrimination against the trans community. Conversely, among those who say a person's gender is determined at birth, half of them oppose laws that protect trans people from discrimination and about 3 in 4 say identification documents should not include options other than "male" or "female."

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