, Volume 24, Issue 11-12, pp 669-680

Sex differences in reporting sensitive behavior: A comparison of interview methods

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While telephone surveys generally are considered to be comparable to in-person interviews for the collection of survey data, their utility for the acquisition of sensitive information from respondents remains in question. This paper examines the effect of interview method upon self-reports of a threatening topic—substance use—for male and female college students. It is hypothesized that males may be less likely to admit sensitive behaviors in telephone interviews, compared to face-to-face encounters, due to an interaction of a characteristic of the telephone medium (i.e., the lack of balanced exchange of identifying information between the interviewer and respondent) and aspects of the male sex role, which discourages self-revelation. Findings indicate that differences in reported use of both legal and illegal substances by interview method were greater among males than females. These gender differences in reporting behavior by survey method remained after statistical controls were applied.

The authors would like to thank Seymour Sudman for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. A previous version was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research, Chicago, Illinois, November 17, 1989.