Cross sectional Study

What is a cross-sectional study?

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In cross-sectional surveys, the study takes place at a single point in time. Hence, cross-sectional surveys do not entail the manipulation of the variables under study, and are limited in that way. Cross-sectional surveys allow researchers to study various characteristics, such as the demographic structure of the consumers, their interests, and attitudes, all at once. It aims to provide information about the population at the current moment in time. For example, cross-sectional surveys will tell us how the consumer is responding and feeling about the product at the present moment. It does not study the other variables that may affect the consumers’ reactions to the product in the future.

Cross-sectional studies are also known as transverse study or prevalence study. Researchers use cross-sectional research in physical and social sciences as well as business industries in order to understand the outcomes of the real world. Cross-sectional studies do not include experiments.

This article covers what a cross-sectional study is, its types, characteristics as well as its advantages. 

What are the characteristics of cross-sectional studies?

Characteristics of cross sectional study
  • A cross-sectional study can be conducted with the same variables over a period of time. 
  • Cross-sectional studies are observational in nature. Even though similar cross-sectional studies explore the same variables, they do so by studying a new set of participants.
  • Cross-sectional studies analyse singular instances or topics and they are rigidly defined. The starting and ending point of a cross-sectional study is determined unlike longitudinal studies. In longitudinal studies, variables can change during the course of the research.
  • Cross-sectional studies let researchers study one independent variable as the main focus and examine its effects on one or more dependent variables.
  • Similar research may look at the same variable of interest, but each study observes a new set of subjects.

One way to understand cross-sectional research is to think of a photograph of a family reunion. The people in the photograph help in determining what is happening in the moment, at the current time. Everyone has one variable in common – being biologically related – and variables that they do not share, example; education level. From the starting point till the end, you can use this photograph to make several observations about the family. Thus, a cross-sectional research basically helps you analyse the “pulse” of the population at any given time with the help of the data collected.

Researchers can also conduct a cross-sectional study to understand the variables that are prevailing in the population or affecting it at any given point. For example, researchers can use past data to analyse the effects of past smoking habits on the current diagnosis of lung cancer.

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Cross-sectional study examples

The data that is collected for a cross-sectional study includes participants that are similar to each other except the variable which is under review. This variable is held constant for the entire study. This is different from a longitudinal study in which variables do then to change from time to time. Some examples of cross-sectional studies are:

  1. In retail, a researcher can use cross-sectional study to assess the similarities and differences in purchasing trends of men and women belonging to a specific age range. This study focuses on the differences of purchasing trends in relation to gender.
  2. Researchers can conduct a cross-sectional study in business to understand how people from the same geographical area respond to changes in discounts as a result of their socio-economic status.
  3. Scientists can use cross-sectional research to explore the prevalence of iron deficiency in children from the ages 12 to 16 years.
  4. In the education sector, cross-sectional research in school can help understand how studies of the same grade respond to changes in the curriculum.
  5. In psychology, researchers can use cross-sectional study to analyse different groups of people who are dissimilar on one variable (happiness) but do share other relevant variables (resilience, age, gender, income) and analyse the influences of the same.
  6. In market research, cross-sectional research allows researchers to collect actionable information in the form of data and use it to make good decisions about the products and services offered by the brand. 
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What are the different types of cross-sectional studies?

Cross-sectional study tends to be either descriptive or analytical. In some cases, it is also a mix of both. 

  • Descriptive research: A cross-sectional study can be completely descriptive. A descriptive survey under cross-sectional research assesses how often, widely, or with what intensity does a variable of interest influences a specific demography under study. In a descriptive cross-sectional study, researchers make careful observations in order to identify trends like purchasing behaviour, thereby playing a crucial role in market research. They may use this information to introduce relevant products and services in the market. They are not interested in why these trends are occurring, but in what are the trends that exist in the market.


  • Analytical research: Analytical cross-sectional study explores the relationship between two parameters that are either related or unrelated. This methodology is not the most accurate or foolproof as it has a tendency of being affected by outside variables and outcomes. For instance, if one wants to study the likelihood of an elderly person contracting coronavirus will overlook other variables such as immunity, comorbidity, and stress levels that are equally likely to affect the contraction of the strain. Hence, in an analytical research, other variables remain unaccounted for.

What are the advantages and benefits of a cross-sectional study?

If you are curious about whether conducting a cross-sectional study would be the right approach for your market research, then this section of the article has you covered. Surveys are an exceptionally efficient way to gather data which can be informative and insightful. We have outlined some of the advantages of conducting a cross-sectional study below:

  • Cross-sectional studies are less time consuming to conduct.
  • Researchers have the opportunity to collect data for all the variables at a single point in time.
  • Researchers can measure the prevalence rates of all factors.
  • Cross-sectional study is suitable for descriptive research and analysis.
  • Researchers can use cross-sectional study as the starting point for future research.
  • Cross-sectional studies also tend to be cost-effective.

However, cross-sectional studies do have some disadvantages which you can read here.

What is the Difference Between Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies?

What is a cross-sectional study? cross-sectional study

Although both cross-sectional and longitudinal research methods are quantitative in nature, there are several differences amongst them. In a cross-sectional study, researchers collect data of a variable at a specific point in time while in a longitudinal study, the data is collected at different times. In longitudinal studies, variables tend to change over time as well. 

Researchers use cross-sectional research to find commonalities between different variables. They use longitudinal studies in order to dissect the findings of the cross-sectional study further.

More cross-sectional study examples

In this section, we will understand cross-sectional research more in depth with the help of two examples.

  • Cross-sectional study example 1: 

Let us consider a researcher who is aiming to study developmental psychology. He/she may select groups of people who are of different ages but study them at one point in time. In this way, the difference between the groups will be attributed to their age differences instead of other variables that may happen over time.

  • Cross-sectional study example 2: 

Another example of a cross-sectional study would be a medical health care professional who is aiming to explore the prevalence rates of cancer in men. Here, the researcher can evaluate people from different ages, races, socio-economic backgrounds, and geographical locations. Let’s say, if the researcher finds out that cancer is more prevalent in one age group irrespective of the other variables. This will help them underline the risk factor that age proposes in the development of cancer. The researcher can further explore the phenomena of age and diseases if he finds out that men from that particular age group are also prone to other diseases. A longitudinal study is the most recommended for this future study as it will examine the same participants over a period of time. 

Create and analyze a cross-sectional study survey

You can conduct your own cross-sectional study by creating an insightful survey with the help of Voxco! You can use our survey templates or build your own survey from scratch, you can use Voxco for building your marketing strategies or medical studies, we are here to help you through it all!

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