Survey Design for TANF Caseload Project: Summary Report and Recommendations. Common Measures Used, Pros and Cons

08/28/2002

Many surveys asked for the respondents marital status; but they differed slightly in the way the question was worded. The WES asked whether the respondent was currently married and living with her husband, married and living apart, separated, divorced, widowed, or never been married. If not married, follow-up questions were asked whether she was living as an unmarried partner with someone and, if not, whether she currently had a boyfriend or steady partner. The Missouri survey asked whether the respondent was currently married, separated from his or her spouse, divorced, widowed, or never married. Two follow-up questions were asked whether the respondent had gotten married since leaving AFDC, and whether he or she had been separated or divorced since leaving AFDC. The Nebraska survey asked whether the respondent was currently married, separated, divorced, widowed, or never married. If she was not married, a follow-up question asked if she was currently living together as a couple with someone.

The wording in the WES survey contains two ambiguous categories: married and living apart, and separated. The two categories could be interpreted as meaning the same thing or different things. Therefore, we do not recommend this measure; nor do we recommend the other two categories from the WES. The measure that asks whether the respondent is living with someone as an unmarried partner is of concern because the language may be perceived by respondents as offensive, and it could lead to item nonresponse. We believe it is not crucial to collect information on whether the respondent currently has a steady boyfriend or partner who does not live with the respondent.

The Missouri and Nebraska surveys ask for marital status in nearly identical fashion. The Missouri marital question contains a few more words that provide no additional clarity. The follow-up questions from the Missouri survey are irrelevant for the purposes of this study, since we will be interviewing current welfare recipients.

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