How to ask income survey questions

Learn how to ask questions about income in a way that puts respondents at ease.

When it comes to collecting personal information from respondents, it’s important to make your respondents comfortable enough to answer. Sensitive questions involve disclosing personal information like health, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and income. Asking sensitive questions like income the right way is necessary for accurate responses. 

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Asking someone questions about their income may seem intrusive, causing the respondent to skip the question or exit the survey entirely.  Knowing how to ask an income survey question the right way can increase your survey completion rate.

Income survey questions are part of a demographic questionnaire that reveals the financial situation of a respondent. Income is personal information but it's also necessary information for some businesses—such as—banks, restaurants, retailers, etc.— to make informed business decisions. For example, banks may issue a loan based on the applicant’s financial ability to pay it back. Another example is income survey questions can help you assess whether your customer base can afford the product or service offered. Having insight into annual income can also help businesses better price their products to sell. 

Asking respondents income survey questions the right way has its benefits. Understanding household income can provide valuable insight that helps you make better decisions for your business. Income survey questions can help you achieve three things: 

  1. Allow researchers to analyze how factors like income influence purchase decisions - A customer’s income could have everything to do with whether or not the customer purchases it. Also, higher income allows for luxurious purchases. In contrast, lower income allows for economical purchases. 
  1. Help businesses price their products and services and understand the income of their target market - In a survey that represents your customer base, income survey questions can help you price your merchandise in a way that’s more attractive to your customer base. Knowing the financial demographics of your audience will help you pinpoint a price that’s not too high or too low.
  1. Plan future strategies for your business - Understanding the income levels of your target market will assist you in effectively launching new products and services. Knowledge of income will tell you if your customers have the disposable income to afford it. 

Just like the advantages, there are also some disadvantages to asking income survey questions. However, these disadvantages can be easily navigated to benefit your business. Still, such drawbacks are worth acknowledging.

  • People may not answer honestly - Respondents might not feel comfortable disclosing personal information. It might be received as offensive, or they find the question too invasive. So, they might answer falsely to avoid revealing their real annual income. Use these survey guidelines to build a trustful questionnaire that helps respondents be comfortable enough to answer honestly. 
  • Some individuals link income to self-worth - If respondents associate their income with personal gain, they might be embarrassed to answer the question honestly if they feel they’re not earning enough money, especially if optional answers reveal a range of higher incomes. 
  • Some people may decline to answer - Some cultures may find a household income question survey insulting and might refuse to answer the question. Learn how to ask good income survey questions that respondents will most likely answer. If questions in your survey are all marked as required, then declining the question would have the respondent exit the survey.
  • It may be too complicated - A survey question about income might be difficult to understand if it’s not asked the right way. Formatting can also influence how easily a sensitive question is comprehended. Check out these templates to learn how to ask all types of survey questions.

If you want to achieve the best results for your next survey, it’s important to have survey takers answer all of your questions. Respondents need to be comfortable answering your questions. They’ll likely trust you enough to answer honestly if they're comfortable. Here’s what you need to do to write great survey questions about income:

If you want respondents to answer all your survey questions about income, it’s important to make them comfortable. That’s why it’s crucial to know your audience when composing survey questions. If you know the income of your target market doesn’t go beyond a certain range, then stop your answer ranges before they get too large.This is where referencing your buyer persona comes in handy. You’ll be able to target people who are most likely to buy your product or service. As a result, your questions will be worded to better relate to this pool of respondents.

Make sure your questions are clear, direct, and easy to understand. Avoid making respondents read income survey questions more than once. Survey takers generally want to finish questionnaires quickly. The easier an income survey question is to read, the quicker they’ll honestly answer the question, and the faster they’ll complete the survey.  

While income survey questions need to be clear and direct, it’s also beneficial to mix them with questions that don’t mention income yet are still income-related. Asking too many precise survey income questions in a row might be too much personal information for the respondent to divulge. Posing a question about a respondent's education level won’t give you a direct answer about annual income, but it can provide data to correlate for practical insights.

Make sure your questions about income are clear so that you can get the most accurate response from respondents. For example, it reads nicer to ask, “What is your total annual household income?” instead of asking, “How much money does your partner make a year?”

It’s best to avoid assuming respondents will understand the vocabulary you use to construct your survey questions. Avoid confusion by explaining the terms you’re using. For example, while household income and personal income are two different terms, respondents might use these terms interchangeably. This misunderstanding could render the wrong answers that can affect the overall assessment of your survey results. 

Part of making the respondent comfortable is being honest with them. Tell them why you’re asking a sensitive survey question about income. Educating the respondents upfront about your survey goals may encourage them to want to answer all of your questions honestly.

Offer respondents an easier way to answer delicate questions. Provide answering options that give a range in dollar amount. This way, respondents don’t have to reveal the exact dollar amount of their income. For example, you could ask:

What is your total annual income?

  • $0-$30,000
  • $31,000-$60,000
  • $61,000-$90,000
  • $91,000-$120,000
  • $120,000+

Upper and lower limits relate to the first and last answer choice. To avoid assuming respondents make a minimum amount of money, start the first band with a range that starts with zero. For example, $0-$30,000. 

The best way to keep respondents comfortable answering income survey questions is to offer an option not to answer. Opting out of a question is better than the respondent exiting the survey altogether. Survey takers who select this option and continue with the survey tell you perhaps the question needs to be rephrased. 

There are many ways to ask about a person’s income. The following questions can give you an idea of how to ask better “What is your income level?” survey questions. You’ll also learn why these questions are asked and how the answers can benefit your business:

1. Which of the following best describes your personal income last year?

  • $0-$9,999
  • $10,000-$24,999
  • $25,000-$49,999
  • $50,000-$74,999
  • $75,000-$99,999
  • $100,000-$149,999
  • $150,000+
  • Prefer not to answer

Income bracket survey questions, a list of answers in the range of dollar amounts, allow respondents to disclose personal information without revealing their actual income. It also allows surveyors to better assess the results. Additionally, it provides businesses with another way to organize their customer base. 

2. What is your total household income?

  • $0 to $19,999
  • $20,000-$49,999
  • $50,000-$89,999
  • $90,000-$129,999
  • $130,000-$149,000
  • $150,000+
  • Prefer not to answer

Asking for the total household income avoids asking the respondent how much every person living in their home earns. The question is also inclusive of other means of income, including pensions, dividends, and social security payments. Surveyors will have a better understanding of the respondent’s overall household income. 

3. Do you have income from sources other than salary?

  • Yes 
  • No
  • Prefer not to answer

This question works in tandem with question #2. Knowing if the respondent has other sources of income can confirm the respondent has additional means of income. Surveyors can also fine-tune their demographic with more questions that are specific to what kind of sources supplement the total annual income, like questions 4-7. 

4. Did you receive alimony in the last year?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Prefer not to answer

This question is a noninvasive way to determine a respondent’s marital status. Alimony can sometimes be a temporary source of income. If this supplements the total household income, then it’s important information businesses should consider. 

5. Did you receive any social security benefits or disability income in the last year?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Prefer not to answer

In addition to learning about specific types of supplemental income, you can acquire other useful demographic information. Asking about social security is another way to ask about age. Learning the age of your customer base, young or mature, can help you communicate in a relatable way.

6. Did you receive any monetary contribution for child support in the last year?

  • Yes 
  • No
  • Prefer not to answer

This question reveals if the respondent is a guardian to a minor. Businesses can benefit from knowing what percentage of their respondents are parents. There are tons of products and services catering to children and parental needs.

7. Have you received any monetary contributions of gifts that included rent or utility payments from someone who does not live with you?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Prefer not to answer

This is another way to distinguish a respondent’s personal income from their household income. Asking specific questions like this helps the respondent itemize supplemental income for you. This is another way to learn the annual household income versus personal income.

8. List all your sources of income

This open-ended question allows respondents to type in their answers and provide information you, as the surveyor, may have missed. You can also provide a multiple-choice option in a radio, checkbox, or drop-down list to limit the response and help you assess survey results more efficiently. 

The income survey question examples provided above are just one part of sensitive demographic survey questions. Ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and health-related questions are considered sensitive topics for most people. Get better insights into collecting other types of demographics. Demographic surveys help you get a better understanding of your buying audience. Start your next questionnaire with these helpful demographic survey templates and learn how to collect demographic questions the right way from surveys.

Building a household income question survey requires finesse that helps you gain a better understanding of your buyers’ identity. Knowing your audience and providing precise instructions with clear and relevant wording and band ranges with appropriate limits will help you provide surveys customers can trust and answer honestly. These helpful survey tips will prepare you to collect customer demographics your business can use. Sign up for a free account with SurveyMonkey to build your next survey!

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