What Are Demographics? (Definition, Examples and Uses)

Updated July 31, 2023

A person holding a table is in front of four other people. One raises a hand in a positive gesture.

Demographics are the characteristics of a population that have been categorized by distinct criteria—such as age, gender and income—as a means to study the attributes of a particular group. The study of demographic data is essential for businesses, organizations and governments to make decisions. Using this data, businesses can create marketing strategies and governments can implement public policies.

In this article, we define demographics with examples, explain why they are important and show how they are used to understand and support the general public.

Key takeaways:

  • Demographics refer to the specific characteristics within a given population and include such things as age, income level and geographic location.

  • Demographic data can be collected in several ways, such as focus groups, surveys and polls, census collection and psychographic research.

  • Demographic information can be used to create successful marketing campaigns, economic analysis and government policies.

What are demographics?

Demographics are the various characteristics of a population. Examples of demographics can include factors such as the race, sex and age of a population that is being studied. The statistical information on the population's socioeconomic conditions is known as demographic data.

Demographic data can contain specific information about the characteristics of a given population, such as the following examples:

  • Age range

  • Race and ethnicity

  • Gender

  • Level of education

  • Income

  • Employment status

  • Occupation

  • Homeownership

  • Birth rates

  • Death rates

  • Marriage rates

  • Religious affiliation

  • Political affiliation

  • Spoken language

  • Geographic location

  • Hobbies and interests

Related: Demographics vs. Psychographics in Audience Segmentation

Ways to collect demographic data

There are several common methods of collecting demographic data. The most common methods are as follows:

Surveys and polls

Businesses may conduct consumer polls or surveys to gather data about what people buy, why they have specific shopping preferences and how much they spend on average. A business can also collect demographic data by monitoring its social media accounts and e-commerce website. As people become more comfortable with sharing a range of personal information online, it is possible to collect more accurate and valuable data using online forms and email marketing.

Census collection

The direct method of collecting demographic data involves tracking and researching official records of births, marriages, divorces, deaths and migrations. The U.S. Census Bureau counts the U.S. population by taking a census every 10 years in addition to the annual statistical data they collect and the regular surveys they perform.

Online surveys

Online demographic data collection is becoming more common, especially with the convenience and low cost of conducting online surveys. This single-mode method has limitations for simple random samples of the general public, so other strategies such as mixed-mode surveys can be combined for better representation.

Focus groups

One effective method of collecting demographic data is to organize focus groups to discuss a certain product or service. Focus groups can be used to analyze how people within certain demographic groups respond to a product or service, and this method is invaluable in collecting important feedback from participants that can help a company before they launch their product or service.

Psychographic or attitudinal research

This method looks beyond basic demographics and into the psychological reasons behind a consumer’s purchasing choices. This type of research can collect data on consumer spending habits, their value systems, hobbies and thoughts about a certain product or service, and the many other psychological reasons for purchasing or not purchasing a product or service.

Related: Learn About Being a Data Analyst

How demographic information is used

The use of demographic data has become very important as analysts in private and public sectors have access to more data than ever before. Here are some of the main categories that demographic information is used for:

Marketing strategies

Since the business model of most companies is reliant on knowing their customers, having demographic information helps them to understand their target audience. It is a powerful marketing tool that helps companies assess the market’s size and allows them to segment it by factors like age, sex, income, cultural habits and buying behavior.

Market segmentation can provide companies with essential insights into their target audience. Companies can identify the segmented groups that are most likely to purchase their products and services as well as those they might be able to convert into customers in the future. They can then leverage these insights when they want to launch new products and services, improve sales and create new marketing strategies.

For example, let's say that a company is producing high-end cars. For marketing purposes, it can identify a target market by researching income, lifestyles and the interest to purchase luxury vehicles. It can then create advertising campaigns targeting this specific segment of the population. By doing so, the company can keep its marketing budget in check while increasing its chances of finding buyers for the cars. Without relevant demographic information, it would not be able to create such focused and cost-effective marketing plans.

Related: Target Demographics: What They Are and How To Identify Them

Economic analysis

A sound understanding of economics is an effective way to use demographic data about finance, health care, real estate and even voting decisions. Using predictive algorithms and big data, analysts can mine consumer data to identify the ways societies function and create accurate reports about economic indicators and consumer trends based on retail sales and employment data.

Consumer trends fluctuate with prevailing social, economic and political conditions. However, having an inkling of what to expect can help companies prepare. They can adjust their production and marketing to meet the market demand, and, thus, remain in business for the long haul.

Related: Economic Demand: Definition, Determinants and Types

Government policies

Local, state and federal governments can use demographic information to create public policies and allocate funds for public services. Data from government and economic surveys combined with population and housing information from the U.S. Census Bureau can provide important social statistics.

Perhaps the most well-known government use of demographics is for the apportionment of each state’s congressional delegation. Based on population change and population density as counted during each census, seats in the U.S. Electoral College are assigned to each of the 50 states (excluding the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico).

Population and health data can be used to determine the needs of schools and hospitals. Community action agencies and regional planning groups are interested in property values, schools and employment. Lawmakers can better understand the needs of the nation and society as a whole when they have access to statistics and demographics. In the long term, the way government entities use demographics can reshape society as a whole.

Related: What Is the Bureau of Labor Statistics?

Frequently asked questions

What types of organizations use demographic data?

Many businesses and organizations benefit from utilizing demographic data, especially corporations, governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Can demographic data help businesses of all sizes?

Businesses of all sizes can use demographic data to develop effective marketing strategies. Demographics can help small businesses learn more about their target audience, which can be especially important when entering a new market and establishing a brand. Large businesses can more effectively target marketing campaigns by segmenting the audience based on demographics.

How do demographics relate to segmentation?

Segmentation is a process typically based on demographics, where organizations divide a population based on demographic variables, such as age, race, gender and income. This can help people learn about a population's trends in more detail, as they can look at each segment of each demographic.

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