TABLE 1-10 Reasons for Nonresponse from Two Face-to-Face Surveys, 1978 and 2008, in Priority Order

NMCES Reasons for Nonresponse (1978) NHIS Reasons for Nonresponse (2008)

Not interested

Not interested/does not want to be bothered

Unspecified refusal

Too busy

No time to give

Interview takes too much time

Poor physical health/mental condition of respondent

Breaks appointments

Antipathy to surveys in general

Survey is voluntary

Wants to protect own privacy

Privacy concerns

Third-party influences respondent to refuse

Anti-government concerns

Generalized hostility to government

Does not understand survey/asks questions about survey

Other reasons

Survey content does not apply

Objects to government invasion of privacy

Hang-up/slams door

Hostile or threatens interviewer

Other household members tell respondent not to participate

Talk only to specific household member

Family issues

NOTE: NHIS = National Health Interview Survey, NMCES = National Medical Care Expenditure Survey.
SOURCE: Brick and Williams (2013, p. 39).

and their relative order were similar in the two surveys, indicating that the increase in nonresponse rates over time cannot simply be attributed to a change in subjects’ reasons for not responding (see Table 1-10).11 This suggests in turn that there is no simple way of identifying mechanisms for the increase in nonresponse rates over time by examining the reasons given for nonresponse (Brick and Williams, 2013).

When the authors examined the relationship between survey nonresponse rates and nine selected characteristics that might be expected to influence response rates by affecting accessibility or cooperation, they were able to identify four variables that were highly correlated with nonresponse rates for the four surveys they studied: the percentage of families with children under the age of six; the percentage of single-person households; the violent crime rate; and travel time to work. However, it is unclear whether these trends just happened to coincide with the increase in nonresponse rates or whether they represent causal factors in that rise.


11The data on the NMCES are from Meyers and Oliver (1978) based on non-interview report forms completed by field interviewers and those for the NHIS are from Bates et al. (2008) utilizing automated contact history records of verbal and non-verbal interactions recorded by interviewers during contact with households.

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