Tailored Explanation: A Strategy to Minimize Nonresponse in Demographic Items Among Low-income Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Maichou Lor, Barbara J Bowers, Anna Krupp, Nora Jacobson


There is a high rate of nonresponse for demographic items in survey research, particularly for racial and ethnic minority respondents. This present study examined whether explaining the rationale for asking the demographic questions, prior to asking a set of demographic questions, would increase respondents’ motivation to reduce nonresponse to gender, income, age, and race items. Using a cross-sectional, randomized comparison design, 99 respondents were randomly assigned to two groups. Group 1 did not receive an explanation for asking the demographic questions. Group 2 received an explanation designed to be relevant and meaningful to them, concerning the significance and potential use of demographic information for racial and ethnic minority populations. A proportional difference test was used to calculate the differences in the proportion of respondents’ completing demographic survey items between the groups. A proportional difference effect size (Cohen’s h effect size) was used to determine the magnitude of difference between the two groups. Over 50% of respondents were African Americans. While none of the item nonresponses for both groups is statistically significant in terms of proportional differences, there is small (Cohen’s h=0.184) to moderate (Cohen’s h=0.342) effect in reducing demographic item nonresponse when an explanation was provided to respondents. Specifically, adding an explanation made the biggest improvement in reporting income. The study findings support the importance of providing participants with an explanation that is relevant and meaningful to them, increasing their motivation to respond, thereby minimizing item nonresponse.


item nonresponse, motivation, tailored explanation

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