Written by: Director Robert Groves
As I’m watching the returns of the census forms by mail each day, our staff is busy forecasting and analyzing the pattern of results.
I have a strange déjà vu feeling about the activity. I spent a good chunk of my career studying patterns of nonresponse to sample surveys in the commercial and scientific sectors, both in the US and around the world. I’ve worked with researchers in many Western countries since 1991, jointly trying to understand why the percentage of persons responding to surveys has been consistently declining in those countries. Collectively we learned a lot; we saw in every country that urban areas have lower participation rates than other areas; we saw that those who live by themselves tend to have lower rates; we saw the pervasively lower rates among those with lower education; we saw that males tend to respond at lower rates than females. But, most consistently, we saw almost every country generating lower rates of participation each year.
These were the studies of survey methodologists around the world. They have not yet yielded a manageable set of causes of these lower response rates, so there is much progress yet to be made.
As I talk to mayors of towns and our census partners, struggling to get their mail return rates higher, I find myself redoing the same discussions I have had with my researcher colleagues over the past twenty years.
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