Declining Response Rates in Federal Surveys: Trends and Implications (Background Paper)

Publisher: Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research
Jun 15, 2016
Authors
John L. Czajka and Amy Beyler

Key Findings:

  • A long-term decline in survey response rates has accelerated in recent years.
  • The increase in nonresponse has been much greater in telephone surveys than in face-to-face surveys.
  • Response rates are a poor predictor of nonresponse bias, which tends to be item-specific.
  • Payment of incentives is the most effective strategy to increase response rates. 
This report reviews recent assessments of trends in response rates among primarily federal surveys and the reasons for declining response rates; documents response trends in seven major Health and Human Services surveys and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey from the mid-1990s through the most recent year available; examines what is known about the relationship between response rates and nonresponse bias; reviews approaches to addressing nonresponse and its effects; and summarizes key conclusions.