Volume 11 - Article 3 | Pages 57–94

Qualitative data in demography: The sound of silence and other problems

By Sara Randall, Todd Koppenhaver

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Date received:20 Jan 2004
Date published:26 Aug 2004
Word count:9062
Keywords:data collection, in-depth interviews, interviewers, qualitative data, research methods, Senegal, Zimbabwe


Qualitative methods and insights from other disciplines are increasingly integrated into demography’s traditionally quantitative toolkit. Whereas this is not problematic for multi-disciplinary research projects difficulties may arise when quantitatively trained demographers diversify to use less familiar data collection tools. We review the scale of this recent trend and the choice of qualitative methods typically employed by demographic researchers.
Using insights from a comparative qualitative study undertaken in Zimbabwe and Senegal, we discuss some problems inherent in qualitative data collection and analysis and propose ways in which such data should and should not be used. Focussing in particular on semi-structured in-depth interviews, we discuss issues of representativity, investigate respondents’ silence on specific topics, and the role of interviewer characteristics in influencing the interview subject matter.

Author's Affiliation

Sara Randall - University College London (UCL), United Kingdom [Email]
Todd Koppenhaver - Johns Hopkins University, United States of America [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» The quality of demographic data on older Africans
Volume 34 - Article 5

» The power of the interviewer: A qualitative perspective on African survey data collection
Volume 28 - Article 27

» Disciplining anthropological demography
Volume 16 - Article 16

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