, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 1151–1176 | Cite as

The Relationship History Calendar: Improving the Scope and Quality of Data on Youth Sexual Behavior

  • Nancy Luke
  • Shelley Clark
  • Eliya M. Zulu


Most survey data on sexual activities are obtained via face-to-face interviews, which are prone to misreporting of socially unacceptable behaviors. Demographers have developed various private response methods to minimize social desirability bias and improve the quality of reporting; however, these methods often limit the complexity of information collected. We designed a life history calendar—the Relationship History Calendar (RHC)—to increase the scope of data collected on sexual relationships and behavior while enhancing their quality. The RHC records detailed, 10-year retrospective information on sexual relationship histories. The structure and interview procedure draw on qualitative techniques, which could reduce social desirability bias. We compare the quality of data collected with the RHC with a standard face-to-face survey instrument through a field experiment conducted among 1,275 youth in Kisumu, Kenya. The results suggest that the RHC reduces social desirability bias and improves reporting on multiple measures, including higher rates of abstinence among males and multiple recent sexual partnerships among females. The RHC fosters higher levels of rapport and respondent enjoyment, which appear to be the mechanisms through which social desirability bias is minimized. The RHC is an excellent alternative to private response methods and could potentially be adapted for large-scale surveys.


Survey methodology Sexual behavior Condom use Life history calendar Data collection 



Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (R21-HD 053587), as well as supplementary funding from the Population Studies and Training Center, Department of Sociology, and UTRA at Brown University; the African Population and Health Research Center; and the Population Research Center at the University of Chicago. The authors gratefully acknowledge the role of research team members Caroline Kabiru, Rachel Goldberg, Hongwei Xu, Aidan Jeffery, Rena Otieno, Salome Wawire, Alena Davidoff-Gore, and Rohini Mathur. We thank the data management staff at the African Population and Health Research Center; Michael White, Catherine Andrezjewski, Holly Reed, and Justin Buszin for information regarding calendar design; Hongwei Xu and Sanyu Mojola for research assistance; and Kelley Smith for editorial assistance. We also thank the interviewers and respondents in Kisumu. Rachel Goldberg, Dennis Hogan, Caroline Kabiru, Kaivan Munshi, and Michael White provided helpful feedback on the paper.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Population Studies and Training CenterBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.African Institute for Development PolicyNairobiKenya

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