Survey design, survey response behaviour and the dynamics of self-reported health and disability

Publication type

Conference Paper


Understanding Society Scientific Conference 2015, 21-23 July 2015, University of Essex, Colchester, UK


Publication date

July 22, 2015


Academic and policy research on disability is largely based on survey
questions asking respondents to self-assess their health. For example,
respondents are asked whether they have a long-standing illness,
disability or infirmity, and if yes, whether they have difficulties with
11 specific Activities of Daily Life. However asking respondents
repeatedly whether they have long-standing problems produces
year-on-year transition rates into and out of disability that are
implausibly high.
We analyse an experiment carried in Waves 6 and 7 of the
Understanding Society Innovation Panel that was designed (1) to identify
reasons for the high rates of change in long-term illness/disability
status, (2) to investigate whether the use of the initial filter
question has significant impact on measured disability, and (3) to test
question versions that would produce more stable measures.
Initial results suggest that long-term health problems are not well
defined. A majority of respondents who stop reporting a long-term
problem still have the condition, however it has improved, treatment or
medication is more effective, or their activities have changed and it is
less of a problem. Among respondents who start reporting a problem, a
majority claim that they already had the condition at the previous
interview. As a consequence, if all respondents are asked about
difficulties with Activities of Daily Life, disability rates are
significantly higher than if routing is based on reporting a long-term
health problem. Further analyses will assess the biasing effects of
errors in health status on estimates of disability incidence and models
of health dynamics.





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