Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Effects of Disclosure of Differential Incentives on Willingness to Participate

06/01/2002

Singer et al. (1999b) hypothesized that those to whom the payment of differential incentives was disclosed would be less willing to participate in a future survey.

In the laboratory study described in the previous section, subjects were significantly more likely to say they would not be willing to participate in a survey where some respondents received a payment for participating but others did not. However, the difference was reduced to insignificance when an explanation for the payment was offered by the interviewer.

In the field study, there were no differences in expressed willingness to participate between those to whom differential payments had been disclosed and those to whom they had not. About a quarter of each group said they definitely would be willing to participate in another survey by the same organization. Even those to whom differential incentive payments were disclosed and who perceived these payments as unfair did not differ significantly in their expressed willingness to participate in a subsequent survey by the same organization, although the trend in responses was as predicted: 25.8 percent versus 32.8 percent expressed such willingness.(10)  The investigators speculated that rapport with the interviewer might have mitigated the deleterious effects of disclosing differential incentives that previously had been observed in the laboratory experiment (Groves et al. 1999).

A little more than a year later, all the original DAS respondents for whom an address could be located were sent a mail questionnaire on the topic of assisted suicide, ostensibly from a different survey organization. There were no significant differences in participation between those to whom differential payments had been disclosed a year earlier and those to whom they had not.

Thus, the data indicate that most respondents believe survey organizations are currently using incentives to encourage survey participation; that these beliefs are affected by personal experience; that only half of those who are aware of the use of incentives believe that payments are distributed equally to all respondents; and that a large majority of respondents perceive the practice of paying differential incentives as unfair. However, disclosure of differential payments had no significant effect on expressed willingness to participate in a future survey, nor were respondents to whom differential incentives had been disclosed significantly less likely to respond to a new survey request, from an ostensibly different organization a year later, although again the differences were in the hypothesized direction.

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