More and more users have been including preferred gender pronouns in their Twitter bios over time, according to new research published in the Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media. The research also provides evidence that words and phrases related to left-wing politics are more likely to be used alongside pronoun lists.
Preferred pronouns refer to the pronouns (such as “she” and “her”) that an individual chooses to use for themselves, as opposed to the pronouns that are traditionally associated with their sex or gender.
The use of preferred pronouns has become increasingly common in recent years, with more people sharing their pronoun preferences on social media, in email signatures, and in other settings. This trend is seen as particularly beneficial for nonbinary and transgender individuals, and is encouraged by LGBT+ activists.
“In the years before I conducted this research, I began encountering cisgender people putting pronoun lists in email signatures and Zoom rooms in an attempt to make it easier for transgender or nonbinary individuals to do so,” said study author Liam Tucker, an undergraduate researcher at The University of Alabama.
“I was interested in better understanding what characterizes the people who shared their preferred pronouns. Social media sites offer data related to personal identity at a scale, which made it an excellent choice for this sort of study.”
The researchers analyzed Twitter profile biographies to measure expressions of personal identity over time, focusing on the prevalence of pronouns listed in U.S.-located Twitter accounts. They used Twitter’s API to construct massive cross-sectional datasets and examined five pronoun lists: she/her, he/him, they/them, she/they, and he/they. The datasets were generated for every year from 2015 to 2022. Each annual dataset included roughly 5 million to 11 million Twitter accounts.
The study found that Twitter users who included preferred pronouns in their bio were generally more active on Twitter than those who did not. Additionally, users with preferred pronouns in their Twitter profile were more likely to follow and be followed by others who also had pronouns listed in their profiles.
Those with a pronoun list in their bio were also more likely to mention left-wing politics and gender or sexual identity in their tweets, and less likely to mention finance, sports, religion, patriotism, or right-wing politics.
Polling has shown that those who support publicly sharing preferred pronouns tend to be younger, more liberal, and less religious. The study’s findings align with these results.
“We observed that certain linguistic tokens systematically co-occurred with pronoun lists,” Tucker told PsyPost. “Specifically, tokens associated with left-wing politics, gender or sexual identity, and social media argot co-occurred disproportionately often alongside pronoun lists, while tokens associated with right-wing politics, religion, sports, and finance co-occurred infrequently.”
The prevalence of pronoun lists was very low until 2018, after which it grew substantially until 2021 and then plateaued. For example, the prevalence of she/her in bios increased by nearly 1,100% between 2017 and 2022.
The researchers also found that people who had joined Twitter in its early years were more likely to include pronouns in their bios compared to people who joined the platform later.
“We found that Twitter users who created their accounts from 2006-2008 were disproportionately likely to include a pronoun list in their Twitter bio,” Tucker told PsyPost. “This slightly surprised me, because Twitter users with an account by 2008 are nearly all 30 years or older and we predicted that people under 30 years of age are disproportionately likely to publicly post their pronouns.”
“We theorize that early Twitter adopters were disproportionately young, urban, cosmopolitan, and aware of new social trends — characteristics that also describe the first people to share preferred pronouns.”
The study found that Twitter users who had “she/her” or “he/him” pronouns in their profile bios were just as likely to have a verified badge as users who didn’t have a pronoun list. However, users with other pronouns (such as they/them) were much less likely to have a verified badge.
However, the ownership of Twitter changed in October 2022, which might have impacted these dynamics.
“Our work was conducted from data gathered from February 2015-June 2022, before Elon Musk purchased Twitter,” Tucker explained. “Our conclusions are about active U.S.-based Twitter users and are not necessarily accurate descriptions of the current cohort of active Twitter users. A future study could replicate this work to identify changes in characteristics of Twitter users with pronoun lists.”
“This project is an example of ipseology, which is the study of human identity using large datasets and computational methods,” he added. “This field of study is just getting started, and it offers the unique opportunity to compare how people describe themselves over time and cross-culturally.”
The study, “Pronoun Lists in Profile Bios Display Increased Prevalence, Systematic Co-Presence with Other Keywords and Network Tie Clustering among US Twitter Users 2015-2022“, was authored by Liam Tucker and Jason J. Jones.