Estimating non-response bias in family studies: application to mental health and lifestyle.

J.M. Vink, G. Willemsen, J.H. Stubbe, C.M. Middeldorp, L. Ligthart, K.D. Baas, H. Dirkzwager, E.J.C. de Geus, D.I. Boomsma

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Non-response to mailed surveys reduces the effective sample size and may introduce bias. Non-response has been studied by (1) comparison to available data in population based registers, (2) directly contacting non-respondents by telephone or single-item reply cards, and (3) longitudinal repetition of the survey. The goal of this paper was to propose an additional method to study non-response bias: when the variable of interest has a familial component, data from respondents can be used as proxy for the data from their non-responding family members. This approach was used with data on smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, coffee- and tea-use, education, body mass index, religion, burnout, life events, personality and mental health in large number of siblings and DZ twins registered with the Netherlands Twin Register. In addition, for smoking behavior, we also used the second strategy by sending a reply card. Results show that scores of members from less cooperative families or incomplete twin pairs tended to be more unfavorable than the scores from highly cooperative families or complete twin pairs. For example, family members from less cooperative families cycled less often and scored higher on anxious depression and neuroticism. For smoking, both the results of the reply card and the results of the additional method suggested a higher percentage smokers among the non-respondents but this was only significant with reply card method. In general, differences between highly/less cooperative families and complete/incomplete DZ twins were small. Results suggest that, even for studies with moderate response rates, data collected on health, personality and lifestyle are relatively unbiased. © 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-630
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Cohort Studies

  • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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