Government orders transitioning research

The Tavistock Centre, home of the Gender Identity Development Service

The government is commissioning new research into young people transitioning, as the number referred to gender clinics continues to rise.

The research will be carried out because an inquiry failed to find hard evidence for what’s behind the increase.

That inquiry was ordered by the Equalities minister last autumn.

a similar picture in other countries

It looked at the increase in the number of young people being referred, particularly the significant rise in referrals of those assigned female at birth. That number was 45 times what it had been 8 years earlier.

The inquiry has found that what’s happening here is mirrored in other developed countries they looked at. And while they found many theories of why it might be the case they found few hard facts.

what will the new research look at?

The new research for the Government Equalities Office will analyse existing international evidence, and analyse data from referrals. It will also interview staff and users of gender services, including looking at why young people sought help.

Alongside the research the government say that they will ask new questions in social surveys. The NHS will also continue longer-term studies of what happens to those who ask to be referred.

Penny Mourdant, Equalities Minister

vitally important

“More and more young people, particularly girls, are using health services to explore changing their gender”, says the Equalites Minister, Penny Mourdant.

“It is vitally important that we prioritise finding out why this is the case, making sure we gain an understanding of the driving factors behind this whilst doing everything we can to support these individuals and their families.”

The latest figure for referrals to the Gender Identity Development Service, the national gender service for young people, show there’s been another 6% increase year on year.

the numbers

There were 2,590 children and young people referred to the service in 2018/19. Nearly three quarters of them had been assigned female at birth, and most of that group were adolescent.

Until relatively recently most referrals were of young people assigned male at birth. 

The inquiry found that in the UK there were about 2.8 female to male referrals for every 1 male to female. They found a similar picture elsewhere: in Canada the ratio was 1.8:1, in the Netherlands 1.7:1, and in Finland 6.8:1.

Across the UK about 1 in 1,900 children aged 13-17 were looking for help from Gender services. That’s around 0.05% of the population. 

the theories

There are many theories as to why there’s such an increase into the number of young people questioning their gender. 

A big cause might be introduction of the Equality Act in 2010. The law brought significant changes in society, including the way schools handle trans issues and trans children.

“There is no single explanation for the increase in referral figures”, Dr Polly Carmichael, Gender Identity Development Service Director, said in 2017.

“But we do know in recent years that there has been significant progress towards the acceptance and recognition of transgender and gender diverse people in our society”.

She said more people now know about gender clinics and the treatments they can provide to young people.

why so many more female to male?

But why has the number of children assigned female at birth who are looking for help gone up so much more than children assigned male?

An academic study in 2015 looked at clinics in Amsterdam and Toronto, and concluded that it’s now easier for people to come out as trans, but it’s significantly easier for female to male trans people.

“There are greater costs for a male to adopt a female gender identity in adolescence than it is for a female to adopt a male gender identity”, the study said.


The transgender activist and author Julia Serano draws an analogy with what appeared to be a dramatic increase in left-handedness in the 20th century.

Between 1900 and 1950 the percentage of left-handed people shot up from about 2% to almost 14%. Why? Left-handedness became less of a stigma, and schools stopped forcing children to use their right hand instead.


Picture Credits: Tavistock Centre, Google Maps. Penny Mourdant pic, Parliament TV. GIDS logo, GIDS. 


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