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Is a Proxy Response Good Enough? Using Paired Cognitive Interviews to Assess the Accuracy of Proxy Responses

Working Paper Number rsm2020-06
Jenna Fulton, Jonathan Katz, Jasmine Luck, Amber Henderson, Mary Davis


A number of government, university, and privately-sponsored surveys use within-household proxy reporting to collect information about multiple members of a household from a single household member. The benefits offered by within-household proxy reporting include reduced survey costs and effort (compared to self-response from each household member), making this type of response a potentially advantageous alternative to self response in some situations. However, there are open questions as to whether data collected from one household member answering on behalf of other household members is comparable to the data collected from each individual household member’s self-report. In this research, we interviewed multiple participants from the same household to explore whether factors such as their relationship to each other and topic area (questions on volunteering, civic engagement, Internet and device usage) can inform comparability of responses. This paper discusses the design considerations necessary in planning and executing a research study using paired cognitive interviews in an approach similar to that of Blair, Menon, and Bickart (1991) to evaluate the use of within-household proxy interviewing in surveys conducted with related and unrelated household members. Data from two recent paired cognitive interview projects are used as case studies.


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