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The Cognitive Evaluation of the Nativity Questions for the Current Population Survey

Tracy R. Wellens



Before becoming a permanent addition to the Current Population Survey (CPS) in January 1994, the nativity questions were pretested using cognitive evaluation techniques. The nativity questions are asked in a sequence for each household member. First, respondents are asked for their country of birth, their mother's country of birth, their father's country of birth, whether they are a citizen of the United States, their citizenship type, and the year they came to the United States to stay. The purpose of this research was to: a) improve the quality of data elicited from the nativity questions by evaluating how respondents interpreted and comprehended the questions; b) to make the questions easier for respondents to answer and c) to determine if the nativity questions were perceived as "sensitive" in the context of the CPS interview. An expert appraisal was conducted to improve the skip pattern instructions for these questions. Next, two phases of concurrent think-aloud interviews were conducted with foreign- born respondents. Results suggested revisions to question wording which made it easier for people with poor language skills to respond to the questions. The evaluation also demonstrated that cognitive evaluation techniques can be fruitfully applied when the questions are targeted to primarily non-native English speaking populations.


Cognitive Interviewing, Nativity


Wellens, Tracy R. (1994). The Cognitive Evaluation of the Nativity Questions for the Current Population Survey. Statistical Research Division Working Papers in Survey Methodology (#94-06). U.S. Census Bureau. Available online at <>.

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

Published online: February 08, 1999
Last revised:

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