Roughly 1 in 20 young adult Americans ages 18-29 say their gender is different than that assigned to them at birth, according to a new Pew Research Center survey

That includes 2% who describe themselves as being a transgender man or woman, meaning they were assigned female at birth and identify as a man or were assigned male and birth and identify as a woman. The figure also includes 3% who say they are nonbinary, meaning neither male nor female or not entirely one or the other.

Overall, the experience of being transgender or nonbinary is more common among younger U.S. adults than older ones, Pew found. An average of 1.6% of adults ages 30-49 report being either transgender or nonbinary. Among those 50 and older, the rate is 0.3%

Anna Brown, a Pew research associate who wrote the report, said the center conducted focus groups to learn more about trans and nonbinary experiences and views, and the survey to learn more about the public’s awareness of and opinions on gender identity.

“These topics have been a part of the national conversation for years now,” she told the Deseret News.

The survey released Tuesday includes data on how many people are or know personally someone who is transgender or nonbinary and an essay based on the focus groups. Later this summer, Pew will release more survey findings, including a look at what people think about policies related to gender identity.

“I’m hoping that people will look at these two analyses and learn a little more about this population,” Brown said.

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While the share of U.S. adults who are transgender or nonbinary is small, the share of people who personally know someone who is has been growing. In this survey, 44% of U.S. adults say they know someone who is transgender, up from 37% in 2017. Even among Americans 65 and older, a third say they now personally know someone who is transgender. 

Overall, 1 in 5 Americans (20%) said they know someone who is nonbinary, according to the report.

The gap between political philosophies is closing, as well. Just a year ago, 48% of Democrats and independents who said they lean toward the Democratic Party said they know someone who is trans, compared to 35% of Republicans and those who lean Republican — a 13 point gap.

Today, the gap has closed to six percentage points. Though the share of Democrats who know a trans person hasn’t changed, 42% of Republicans now say that they know a trans person.

Key findings

Here are a few of the key takeaways from Pew’s new report:

  • Just over a quarter of U.S. adults say they have a trans friend; 13% say a coworker is trans. Ten percent say they have a transgender family member. About 1 in 10 know someone younger than 18 who identifies as trans, according to Pew.
  • Asked about nonbinary individuals, 20% of U.S. adults say they know someone; among those 18-29, the share is 37%.
  • Those living in suburban and urban areas, those with higher levels of education and Democrats are most likely to say that they personally know someone who is nonbinary.
  • Nearly 4 in 5 adults say they have heard about people describing themselves as not having a gender or using terms like “nonbinary” or “gender fluid.” Only 26% say they have heard a lot about this concept. Slightly more than half said they’d heard a little; 21% said they’d heard nothing at all about it.
  • Pew found that three-fourths of Americans don’t know anyone personally who does not identity as either a man or a woman.
  • Last year, In 2021, a different Pew Research Center Survey found 26% of U.S. adults personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” rather than “he” or “she” to describe themselves, up from 18% in 2018.

Pew’s new, nationally representative survey was conducted between May 16-22, among 10,188 people who are part of Pew’s American Trends Panel, which is managed by Ipsos. The margin of error for the nationally representative study is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

To avoid misclassifying people, the pollsters confirmed the person’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity a second time. Brown wrote that making an error on that could have an “outsize effect” when estimating small populations.

Discussing their experiences

Pew worked with PBS Insights to conduct six focus groups with 27 total transgender and nonbinary adults. The focus groups met separately for 90 minutes each between March 8-10.

The groups included a transgender men’s group, moderated by a transgender man; a transgender women’s group, moderated by a trans woman; a nonbinary group moderated by someone who is nonbinary; and three mixed groups that each had a transgender or nonbinary moderator. 

The groups worked off a discussion guide, so most of the questions were the same. But the individual makeup of the groups drove some of the conversation, too, Brown said.

What stood out in the focus groups, according to Brown, was the diversity of their experiences and opinions. “From how they felt about medically transitioning to how they even thought about and describe their own gender to how they see their place in the LGBTQ community, we were seeing a lot of different views,” she said.

Participants in the focus groups ranged in age from late teens to mid-60s and included a mix of white, Black, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial participants. 

Because the groups were small, Pew emphasized that they captured the experiences of the participants and cannot be extrapolated to the broader transgender or nonbinary community.

In an essay that looked at the focus group participants’ experiences, Brown, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Kim Parker and Rachel Minkin wrote that most of them “said they knew from an early age — many as young as preschool or elementary school — that there was something different about them, even if they didn’t have the words to describe what it was.” Some said they felt like they were in the wrong body or that they didn’t fit in with other children of their sex.

Some participants called their gender ”one of the most important parts of their identity, while others described it as one of many important parts or a small piece of how they see themselves. For some, the focus on gender can get tiring,” the Pew researchers wrote.

Those who said gender is not central to their identity ”mentioned race, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic class as important aspects that shape their identity and experiences.”

The authors wrote that deciding how open to be about gender identity is a “constant calculation. Some participants reported that they choose whether or not to disclose that they are transgender or nonbinary in a given situation based on how safe or comfortable they feel and whether it’s necessary for other people to know.” It also depends, they note, on whether the individual can easily pass as cisgender and others won’t recognize they are trans or nonbinary.

People are generally more guarded at work than in many other settings, the essay said.

Some of the participants said that people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual but not transgender “don’t always accept people who are transgender or nonbinary,” according to the Pew writers.

Many said that housing, health care and employment can be challenging depending on where they live. 

Brown noted that survey respondents were classified as transgender if they gave different answers for their sex assigned at birth and their gender. Members of the focus groups were people who described themselves as transgender or nonbinary.