Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.21, No.4, 2005. pp. 701725

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Children and Adolescents as Respondents. Experiments on Question Order, Response Order, Scale Effects and the Effect of Numeric Values Associated with Response Options

The results presented in this article are relevant to the general question to what extent the available methodological knowledge regarding the question–answer process applies also to children and adolescents. Based on the assumption that children lack full cognitive functioning due to their cognitive-developmental stage, we predicted a less sophisticated question–answer process for these respondents. In order to assess this hypothesis we have focused on age and educational achievement as explanatory factors, while the size of response effects was treated as an indicator for the cognitive processes in the respondents’ minds while preparing to answer a survey question.

In sum, the size of response order effects as well as that of scale effects and that of the effects of numeric values associated with response categories decreases with age. In general, in each age-group comparison the response effects reach the highest level among the youngest group – that is assumed to be cognitively less developed. At the same time, younger respondents are more likely to ignore contextual information when decoding the question than older respondents. With some restrictions this holds also for the differences between the size of the response effects for respondents with good school achievement on the one hand and respondents with intermediate or poor school achievement on the other.

Measurement error, response effect, field experiment

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