Difficulty to Reach Respondents and Nonresponse Bias: Evidence from Large Government Surveys

Ori Heffetz, Daniel B. Reeves

NBER Working Paper No. 22333
Issued in June 2016
NBER Program(s):AG, LS

How high is unemployment? How low is labor force participation? Is obesity more prevalent among men? How large are household expenditures? We study the sources of the relevant official statistics—the Current Population Survey (CPS), the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), and the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX)—and find that the answers depend on whether we look at easy- or at difficult-to-reach respondents, measured by the number of call and visit attempts made by interviewers. A challenge to the (conditionally-)random-nonresponse assumption, these findings empirically substantiate the theoretical warning against making population-wide estimates from surveys with low response rates.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

Supplementary materials for this paper:

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22333

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Goodman-Bacon w22899 The Long-Run Effects of Childhood Insurance Coverage: Medicaid Implementation, Adult Health, and Labor Market Outcomes
Cawley, Moriya, and Simon w17600 The Impact of the Macroeconomy on Health Insurance Coverage: Evidence from the Great Recession
Coffman, Coffman, and Ericson w19508 The Size of the LGBT Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated
Coile, Milligan, and Wise w21939 Social Security and Retirement Programs Around the World: The Capacity to Work at Older Ages – Introduction and Summary
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us