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Measuring Respondents’ Perceptions of Burden in the American Community Survey (ACS)

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Working Paper Number rsm2021-04


Minimizing respondent survey burden may help decrease nonresponse and increase data quality, but the measurement of burden has varied widely. Recent efforts have paid more attention to respondents’ subjective perceptions of burden, measured through the addition of questions to a survey. Despite reliance on these questions as key measures, little qualitative research has been conducted for household surveys. We conducted a literature review, focus groups, and cognitive interviews to examine possible sources of burden in the American Community Survey (ACS) such as survey length, sensitivity, and contact strategy; respondents’ knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about burden; and overall perceptions of burden. Generally, respondents did not find the ACS to be burdensome in either the focus groups or cognitive interviews. When deciding whether it was burdensome, respondents thought about the process of responding to the questionnaire, the value of the data, that response is mandatory, and to a lesser extent, the contacts they received, suggesting these constructs are key components of burden in the ACS. There were some differences by response mode and household characteristics. Questions on perceptions of burden generally performed well in cognitive testing, but we recommend field testing a short series of optional burden questions on the ACS about response length, overall burden, effort, and privacy. If added to the ACS, questions on perceived burden would allow the Census Bureau to track trends in burden over time, look at differences in perceptions by respondent subgroups, and examine effects of experimental treatments on burden.

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Page Last Revised - November 10, 2021
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