, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 1127–1149 | Cite as

Responsive Survey Design, Demographic Data Collection, and Models of Demographic Behavior

  • William G. AxinnEmail author
  • Cynthia F. Link
  • Robert M. Groves


To address declining response rates and rising data-collection costs, survey methodologists have devised new techniques for using process data (“paradata”) to address nonresponse by altering the survey design dynamically during data collection. We investigate the substantive consequences of responsive survey design—tools that use paradata to improve the representative qualities of surveys and control costs. By improving representation of reluctant respondents, responsive design can change our understanding of the topic being studied. Using the National Survey of Family Growth Cycle 6, we illustrate how responsive survey design can shape both demographic estimates and models of demographic behaviors based on survey data. By juxtaposing measures from regular and responsive data collection phases, we document how special efforts to interview reluctant respondents may affect demographic estimates. Results demonstrate the potential of responsive survey design to change the quality of demographic research based on survey data.


Data collection Surveys Fertility Marriage NSFG 



The authors wish to thank the NSFG staff at both the National Center for Health Statistics and the University of Michigan for all their effort to produce the NSFG data with the most innovative survey tools available. We also wish to thank Paul Schulz and Sarah Brauner-Otto for their contributions to previous versions of this paper, and Mick Couper, Peter Granda, Nicole Kirgis, Jim Lepkowski, and James Wagner for their helpful comments regarding the analysis of responsive design effects. The responsibility for all errors remains with the authors. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2009 annual meetings of the Population Association of America.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • William G. Axinn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cynthia F. Link
    • 1
  • Robert M. Groves
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Joint Program in Survey MethodologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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