In recent years, several prominent Americans have come out as transgender or gender nonbinary (that is, identifying as neither exclusively a man nor a woman). Governments at both the federal and state levels also have moved toward putting more legal protections in place for transgender people and formally recognizing nonbinary identities. At the same time, a record number of state-level bills have sought to limit definitions of gender to the sex people are assigned at birth.

A bar chart showing that growing shares of people in the U.S. know someone who is transgender or goes by gender-neutral pronouns

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that growing shares of U.S. adults say they know someone who is transgender or who goes by a gender-neutral pronoun. Yet Americans’ comfort levels with using gender-neutral pronouns to refer to someone – as well as their opinions on whether someone’s gender can differ from the sex they were assigned at birth – have remained static.

Overall, about four-in-ten Americans (42%) say they personally know someone who is transgender, up 5 percentage points since 2017. And about a quarter (26%) say they know someone who prefers that others use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” instead of “he” or “she” when referring to them, up from 18% in 2018, the last time the question was asked.

There has been no shift in opinion on other questions on related topics. Half of Americans say they would feel very or somewhat comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to someone if they were asked to do so, while 48% say they would feel very or somewhat uncomfortable doing so. These numbers are virtually unchanged since 2018.

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand what share of Americans know someone who is transgender or who goes by gender-neutral pronouns. The study also explores Americans’ views about the use of gender-neutral pronouns and whether sex at birth determines gender.

This analysis is based on a survey of 10,606 U.S. adults. The data was collected as a part of a larger survey conducted June 14-27, 2021. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for this post, along with responses, and its methodology.

Similarly, a majority of U.S. adults (56%) believe that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, with 41% saying that a person’s gender can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth. These figures, too, are roughly unchanged since 2017.

Differences by age, party and education in knowing a transgender person or someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns

A chart showing that in both parties, growing shares of Americans report knowing someone who is transgender

Younger adults, Democrats and those with more education are generally more likely to report knowing a transgender person or someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.

Some 53% of those younger than 30 say they know a transgender person, up from 44% in 2017. The share of 50- to 64-year-olds who know someone who is transgender has also increased, but this is not true among other age groups.

People in both partisan coalitions are now more likely to report knowing transgender people than in 2017, but Democrats and those who lean Democratic remain more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to do so. Today, about half of Democrats (48%) say they know a transgender person, up from 43% in 2017, while the share of Republicans who say the same has risen from 28% to 35%.

Those with a college degree (46%) are also more likely than those with some college experience (41%) and those with a high school diploma or less (39%) to say they know someone who is transgender. The shares of college graduates and those with some college who say they know someone who is transgender are up from 2017, but the figure hasn’t changed significantly among those with a high school diploma or less education.

The survey also asked respondents whether they personally know anyone who prefers that others use gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” instead of “he” or “she” when referring to them – and whether they would be comfortable using these pronouns to refer to someone if asked.

A chart showing that 46% of younger U.S. adults know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns, up from 32% in 2018

Growing shares in all age groups say they know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns. Shares among adults younger than 30 increased 14 percentage points since 2018 (from 32% to 46%), and 10 points among those 30 to 49 (from 19% to 29%).

As with knowing someone who is transgender, adults in both political parties are now more likely than in 2018 to say they know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns. But Democrats are still about twice as likely as Republicans to say this (34% vs. 16%).

There has also been a double-digit increase in the share of college graduates who say they know someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns (now 32%, up from 21% in 2018). Adults with some college experience (26%) and a high school diploma or less education (20%) saw increases of 6 percentage points since 2018.

Wide partisan differences in comfort with using gender-neutral pronouns

A bar chart showing that Most Republicans say they are uncomfortable using gender-neutral pronouns to refer to others; most Democrats are comfortable

Age and political party are also strongly related to comfort with using gender-neutral pronouns. About six-in-ten adults ages 18 to 29 (61%) say they would feel comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns to refer to someone, including 39% who say they would feel very comfortable. A narrower majority (53%) of those 30 to 49 say they would feel at least somewhat comfortable, compared with 46% of those 50 to 64 and 41% of adults 65 and older.

The political parties are mirror images of each other when it comes to comfort with using gender-neutral pronouns. About two-thirds of Republicans (68%) say they would feel somewhat or very uncomfortable using these pronouns, while about the same share of Democrats (67%) say they would feel somewhat or very comfortable.

Those who report knowing someone who goes by gender-neutral pronouns are more likely than those who do not to say they would feel very or somewhat comfortable using those pronouns to refer to someone if asked (69% vs. 44%). The same pattern holds across age groups and among both Republicans and Democrats.

A majority of young adults say gender can differ from sex assigned at birth

Differences by age, party and education also emerge when it comes to whether someone’s gender can differ from sex at birth.

A 56% majority of adults younger than 30 say gender can differ from sex at birth, compared with roughly four-in-ten or fewer among older age groups.

A bar chart showing that partisans differ on whether gender is determined by sex assigned at birth

Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say a person can be a man or a woman even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth (63% vs. 17%). These patterns are largely unchanged from four years ago.

Liberal Democrats are particularly likely to say gender can be different from sex assigned at birth: 81% hold this view, compared with 48% of moderate or conservative Democrats. Meanwhile, conservative Republicans (90%) are especially likely to say that a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, though two-thirds of moderate or liberal Republicans say the same.

Majorities of Democrats across age groups say a person’s gender can be different from their sex assigned at birth. But while 72% of Democrats younger than 30 say this, the share falls to 62% of those ages 30 to 49, 55% of those 50 to 64 and 64% of those 65 and older. Republicans across age groups are much less likely to say gender can be different from sex at birth, but those 18 to 29 (26%) and those 30 to 49 (19%) are more likely than older Republicans to say this.

As was the case in 2017, those with a bachelor’s degree or more education are more likely than those who do not have a college degree to say a person’s gender can be different from sex assigned at birth. However, the share of college graduates saying this has dropped from 55% to 47%, while views are virtually unchanged among those without a bachelor’s degree.

Differences by educational attainment are particularly pronounced among Democrats. Around seven-in-ten Democrats with at least a bachelor’s degree (72%) say a person’s gender can be different from sex assigned at birth, compared with 63% of Democrats with some college and 54% of those with a high school diploma or less education. Among Republicans, about three-quarters or more across all levels of educational attainment say a person’s gender is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth.

There are also racial and ethnic differences among Democrats on this issue. Majorities of White (74%) and Hispanic (60%) Democrats say that someone can be a man or a woman even if that’s different from the sex they were assigned at birth. In turn, a majority of Black Democrats (58%) say the opposite.

Those who report knowing someone who is transgender are more likely to believe that a person’s gender can differ from their sex at birth. A slight majority of Americans who know a transgender person (54%) say that someone can be a man or a woman even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This compares with just a third of those who do not know a transgender person. This gap exists among both Republicans and Democrats, as well as adults of all ages.

Note: Here are the questions used for this post, along with responses, and its methodology.

Rachel Minkin  is a research associate focusing on social and demographic trends research at Pew Research Center.
Anna Brown  is a research associate focusing on social and demographic trends research at Pew Research Center.