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The Role of Respondent Comprehension and Interviewer Knowledge in CPS Labor Force Classification

Pamela C. Campanelli, Jennifer Rothgeb, Elizabeth Martin

KEY WORDS: interviewer effects, vignettes, question interpretation, respondent debriefing, standardization


In research conducted for the 1992 redesign of the Current Population Survey (CPS) instrument, respondents' and interviewers' understanding of basic labor force concepts was evaluated in a pair of studies conducted in 1988 and 1989. Vignettes illustrating hypothetical situations were developed to test the concepts of "work", "job", "business", and "looking for work." They were administered in a respondent debriefing study conducted after the last of four monthly interviews using the regular CPS questionnaire, and in a Knowledge of Concepts Study given to the CPS field staff. The results showed that both interviewers' and respondents' understandings of key concepts were variable, and in some cases departed substantially from the CPS definitions. Some concepts were defined too broadly, and others, too narrowly. Most problematic were errors of interpretation shared by interviewers and respondents. The accuracy of interviewers' classifications was correlated with their years of experiences as CPS interviewers. The results lend support to survey critics who have challenged the assumption that standardized question wording yields standardized question meaning.

CITATION: Pamela C. Campanelli, Jennifer M. Rothgeb, and Elizabeth A. Martin. 1989. "The Role of Respondent Comprehension and Interviewer Knowledge in CPS Labor Force Classification," 1989 American Statistical Association Proceedings (Survey Research Methods Section): 425-430

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Created: August 25, 2005
Last revised: August 25, 2005

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010