Neighborhood Characteristics and Participation in Household Surveys

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Declining response rates in household surveys continue to demand not only a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying nonresponse, but also the identification of auxiliary variables that can help assess, reduce, and hopefully correct for this source of error in survey estimates. Using data from L.A. Family and Neighborhood Study (L.A. FANS), this dissertation shows that observable characteristics of the sampled neighborhoods have the potential to advance both survey research topics.

Paper 1 of this dissertation advances our understanding of the role that local neighborhood processes play in survey participation. The measures of social and physical environments are shown to be significant predictors of household cooperation in the L.A.FANS, even after controlling for the socio-economic composition of households and neighborhoods.

A nice feature of the indicators of the physical environment is that they can be observed without performing the actual interview. Thus they are available for both respondents and nonrespondents. However, survey interviewers charged with this task might make errors that can limit the usability of these observations. Paper 2 uses a multilevel framework to examine 25 neighborhood items rated by survey interviewers. The results show that errors vary by type of item and that interviewer perceptions are largely driven by characteristics of the sampled areas -- not by characteristics of the interviewers themselves.

If predictive of survey participation, neighborhood characteristics can be useful for survey fieldwork decisions aimed at increasing response rates. If neighborhood characteristics are also related to survey outcome variables they furthermore can be used to inform strategies aimed at reducing nonresponse bias. Paper 3 compares the effectiveness of several different neighborhood characteristics in nonresponse adjustments for the L.A.FANS, and shows that interviewer observations perform similar to Census variables when used for weighting key estimates of L.A. FANS.

Results of this dissertation can be relevant for those who want to increase response rates by tailoring efforts according to neighborhood characteristics. The most important contribution of this dissertation, however, lies in re-discovering intersections between survey methodology and urban sociology.