Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Effects on Item Nonresponse

06/01/2002

One question often raised about the use of incentives in surveys is whether they bring about an increase in the response rate at the expense of response quality. This does not appear to be the case. On the contrary, what evidence there is suggests that the quality of responses given by respondents who receive a prepaid or a refusal conversion incentive does not differ from responses given by those who do not receive an incentive. They may, in fact, give better quality answers, in the sense that they have less item-missing data and provide longer open-ended responses (Baumgartner et al., 1998; Singer et al., 2000; Shettle and Mooney, 1999; but cf. Wiese, 1998). Experiments reported by Singer et al. (2000) indicate that promised and prepaid incentives reduce the tendency of older people and nonwhites to have more item-missing data, resulting in a net reduction in item nonresponse.

Findings reported by Mason and Traugott (1999) suggest that persistent efforts to persuade reluctant respondents to participate may produce more respondents at the price of more missing data. But these authors did not use incentives, and motivational theory suggests that people who are rewarded for their participation would continue to give good information, whereas those who feel harassed into participation may well retaliate by not putting much effort into their answers. However, there is no evidence about the effect of incentives on validity or reliability, and this is an important research question.

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