Survey Research And Methodology Program


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This PhD dissertation was presented to the graduate college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

The dissertation advisor: Professor Robert F. Belli.

Supervisory Committee Member Professors: Allan L. McCutcheon, Janet A. Harkness, Kristen Olson, and Lesa Hoffman.

Major: Survey Research and Methodology

Copyright 2011 Ipek Bilgen


Among interviewing context factors, the level of interviewer experience has been observed to be associated with item nonresponse rates in surveys (Singer et al., 1983, Bailar et al., 1977; Pickery & Loosveldt, 1998). The findings regarding the direction of this association, however, are equivocal. This dissertation addresses competing theories behind the relationship between interviewer experience and item nonresponse. The explored experience types are general interviewer experience, gained via survey administration during a lifetime, and within-study interviewer exposure, gained during administration of a particular study fielding period. Item nonresponse was measured via respondents’ “don’t know” responses.

To date, methodological studies examining the relationship between interviewer experience and data quality focused on standardized interviews. As the interviewing technique—standardized or flexible—relates to data quality, this dissertation discusses the relationship between interviewer experience, exposure, and item nonresponse in both conventional standardized and flexible calendar interviews.

Participants sampled from the 2001 Panel Study of Income Dynamics study were interviewed via telephone. This dissertation used a random sample of these interviews to examine the study-relevant verbal behaviors used by both interviewers and respondents during the question administration process in 165 calendar and 162 standardized interviews. The interviewer and respondent behaviors studied are: 1) Interviewer deviation from conventional ideals, 2) Interviewer and respondent interpersonal dynamics, and 3) Interviewer and respondent retrieval strategies.

Overall, interviewer experience and exposure are positively associated with item nonresponse in both standardized and calendar interviews. The inclusion of the three sets of verbal behaviors moderated this relationship. The association between interviewer and respondent behaviors and item non-response changed depending on when they were used (early versus later interviews), who they were used by (experienced versus inexperienced interviewers), and the interviewing method used (calendar versus standardized interviews). Additionally, the differences in item non-response probabilities, due to the differential use of interviewer behaviors among interviewers with diverse experience levels, were significantly smaller in calendar interviews than in standardized interviews.