Volume 32 - Article 26 | Pages 797–828

Do low survey response rates bias results? Evidence from Japan

By Ronald R. Rindfuss, Minja K. Choe, Noriko O. Tsuya, Larry L. Bumpass, Emi Tamaki

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Date received:10 Nov 2013
Date published:25 Mar 2015
Word count:8461
Keywords:family, fertility, Japan, migration, response rates, survey methods


Background: In developed countries, response rates have dropped to such low levels that many in the population field question whether the data can provide unbiased results.

Objective: The paper uses three Japanese surveys conducted in the 2000s to ask whether low survey response rates bias results. A secondary objective is to bring results reported in the survey response literature to the attention of the demographic research community.

Methods: Using a longitudinal survey as well as paradata from a cross-sectional survey, a variety of statistical techniques (chi square, analysis of variance (ANOVA), logistic regression, ordered probit or ordinary least squares regression (OLS), as appropriate) are used to examine response-rate bias.

Results: Evidence of response-rate bias is found for the univariate distributions of some demographic characteristics, behaviors, and attitudinal items. But when examining relationships between variables in a multivariate analysis, controlling for a variety of background variables, for most dependent variables we do not find evidence of bias from low response rates.

Conclusions: Our results are consistent with results reported in the econometric and survey research literatures. Low response rates need not necessarily lead to biased results. Bias is more likely to be present when examining a simple univariate distribution than when examining the relationship between variables in a multivariate model.

Comments: The results have two implications. First, demographers should not presume the presence or absence of low response-rate bias; rather they should test for it in the context of a specific substantive analysis. Second, demographers should lobby data gatherers to collect as much paradata as possible so that rigorous tests for low response-rate bias are possible.

Author's Affiliation

Ronald R. Rindfuss - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States of America [Email]
Minja K. Choe - East-West Center, United States of America [Email]
Noriko O. Tsuya - Keio University, Japan [Email]
Larry L. Bumpass - University of Wisconsin–Madison, United States of America [Email]
Emi Tamaki - Ritsumeikan University, Japan [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Employment and household tasks of Japanese couples, 1994-2009
Volume 27 - Article 24

» Cohabitation and children's living arrangements: New estimates from the United States
Volume 19 - Article 47

» Marital Dissolution in Japan: Recent Trends and Patterns
Volume 11 - Article 14

» The topography of the divorce plateau: Levels and trends in union stability in the United States after 1980
Volume 8 - Article 8

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