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There May Be 1 Million More Transgender Teens Than Previously Thought, New Study Suggests

a boy holds up cut outs of a man and a woman, looking confused as he chooses between them.

Many more teenagers than previously thought may identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, a new study in the journal Pediatrics suggested. Only about 0.6 percent of U.S. adults identify with a gender opposite their birth sex, and previous studies showed about 0.7 percent of U.S. teens do so as well. The study published Monday suggested that the percentage might be closer to 3 percent, however.

To put that in perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were 41.7 million Americans between the ages of 10 and 19. If 0.7 percent of them identify as a gender different from their birth sex, then approximately 292,000 U.S. teens are transgender. If the share is 2.7 percent, however, that would mean 1.13 million U.S. teens are transgender — an increase of 0.86 million.

That's just shy of the population of San Francisco, Calif. (not including the Bay Area), and quite a bit larger than that of Washington, D.C. (not including the surrounding area).

This week, Pediatrics released a study of Minnesota teenagers in grades 9 and 11. The study surveyed 80,929 students, and found that 2,168 (2.7 percent) identified with a gender opposite or different from their birth sex. The study referred to them as "Transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC)," and labeled the other 78,761 (97.3 percent) "cisgender."

These results represented a stunning increase from previous estimates. According to government estimates, about 0.6 percent of U.S. adults (1.4 million) identify as transgender. A UCLA study released last year estimated that 0.7 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 are transgender, about 150,000 kids, CBS News reported.

"With growing trans visibility in the United States, some youth might find it safer to come out and talk about gender exploration," Nic Rider, a University of Minnesota postdoctoral fellow studying transgender health, told CBS News. "Diverse gender identities are more prevalent than people would expect."

Some might object to the comparison, however, and it does seem potentially misleading. The inclusion of "gender non-conforming" may have skewed the results.

More of the Minnesota TGNC students were "assigned female at birth." A full 504 female-at-birth TGNCs (or in traditional terms, "gender-confused girls") said they were either "very feminine" or "somewhat feminine." Similarly, 263 male-at-birth TGNCs (or "gender-confused boys") said they were either "very masculine" or "somewhat masculine."

To make matters even more confusing, a great deal of students identified themselves as "equally feminine and masculine." In total, only 339 gender-confused girls (23.6 percent of the female-at-birth TGNCs) identified themselves as "very masculine" or "somewhat masculine." Only 204 gender-confused boys (30.8 percent of the male-at-birth TGNCs) identified themselves as "very feminine" or "somewhat feminine."

Considering these numbers, there were only 543 transgender teens in the study, suggesting 0.67 percent of U.S. teens are transgender, or only 279,800 teenagers.