Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Survey Statistics and Methodology (2020)

doi: 10.1093/jssam/smaa014


Copyright © 2020 Kristen Olson, James Wagner, and Raeda Anderson. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Used by permission.


Survey costs are a major driver of survey design decisions and thought to be related to survey errors. Despite their importance, no common language exists for discussing survey costs, nor are there established criteria for identifying which cost metrics are useful for which purposes. Past efforts to study survey costs may have been hampered by the notion that more reporting is better reporting. This article starts by introducing a typology for survey cost metrics defined by the type of cost (estimated, observed in records, and actually incurred), currency versus non-currency measures, and level of aggregation (total, by components, per unit, relative). We also suggest a set of criteria – errors in costs, generalizability, and the degree to which a cost measure is informative about survey error sources – for evaluating the utility of cost metrics. We illustrate the evaluative criteria with the cost metrics. We argue that clearly articulating types of survey costs and resetting these baseline evaluative criteria for the utility of different types of costs will help us expand research in this critical area. We conclude with recommendations for future research in costs within and across organizations.