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ESRA 2023 Glance Program

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Surveying Older People in Times of Crisis: Methodological Issues 2

Session Organisers Dr Michael Weinhardt (DZA German Centre of Gerontology)
Dr Jan-Lucas Schanze (GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences)
Dr Michael Bergmann (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE))
Dr Annette Scherpenzeel (Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel))
Dr Stefan Stuth (DZA German Centre of Gerontology)
Dr Julia Simonson (DZA German Centre of Gerontology)
TimeTuesday 18 July, 14:00 - 15:30
Room U6-07

European societies are undergoing difficult times, where the aftermath of the COVID-19-pandemic and the current energy crisis add to already existing challenges, such as drought and heat waves due to climate change. Many of these challenges impact the ageing populations in Europe in particular ways and surveys are essential to assess the life situations of the older population. National and international surveys that target and cover the ageing populations can deliver this important knowledge but, at the same time, face a range of very specific methodological issues. These include, but are not limited to:

- fieldwork management, contact strategies and participant engagement for older target groups
- age-related coverage errors of different sampling frames
- the institutionalised older population: undercoverage and interview challenges
- nonresponse bias and measurement error due to declining cognitive and physical (listening, reading) abilities
- restricted use of modes (online, mobile) and mixed-mode surveys for older people
- age-related interview challenges and the need for specific interviewer skills and training
- the use of proxy interviews or 'triad interviews' and consequences for data quality
- conversion of gate keepers who refuse / hesitate to let an older person be interviewed
- tracking /tracing of panel members, e.g., for people moving to institutions or the deceased
- data linkage: developments and new sources, for example to public health / death records
- age differences in the quality of data in face-to-face or self-administered interview modes
- the question of “vulnerability” of older respondents and ethical issues in general
- new survey tools to improve data collection and quality among older people

We invite papers addressing these or related issues of surveying the older population. We also invite papers on the adjustments necessary to survey older respondents during the recent pandemic and the consequences they had on the various aspects of total survey error.


Data Quality in Research of the Elderly: Lessons from the German Ageing Survey (DEAS)

Dr Stefan Stuth (German Centre of Gerontology) - Presenting Author
Mrs Nicole Hameister (German Centre of Gerontology)

The question of data quality arises in every type of survey. However, surveying elderly people may come with additional challenges: With increasing age, cognitive and physical performance declines. What does this mean for data quality and the conduct of studies targeting older respondents?

Initial analyses on the relationship between data quality and respondents’ age give clear indications of a lower quality in survey data with regard to item non-response, especially among respondents who are 80 years old or older. Using longitudinal data from the German Aging Survey (DEAS), we examine the reliability of responses that should be stable over time and focus on the effect of panel conditioning. We also examine item non-response and extreme responses and disentangle the age effects of the respondents and interviewers. We find a detrimental age effect and an interaction between respondents age and interviewers age only with regard to item non-response. Extreme response behavior is dependent on panel conditioning whereas the reliability of repeatedly stated biographical information is not dependent on age.
We conclude with an assessment of data quality among older DEAS respondents and present some practical suggestions for survey design and for analyses of surveys of elderly people.

We are using the German Ageing Survey (DEAS), which is a representative longitudinal study of the German population aged 40 years and older in private households, which has been conducted since 1996. The DEAS is an important source of information on age-related topics such as intergenerational relations, health, social relationships, leisure behavior, care and dependency, and many topics more. The DEAS is collected via personal interviews supplemented by additional written questionnaires (since 2017 also as CAWI).

Testing a targeted push-to-web design for older audiences: learnings from the GP Patient Survey

Ms Eileen Irvin (Ipsos, UK) - Presenting Author

The GP Patient Survey (GPPS) is a random probability survey, evaluating patient experience of primary care in England, collecting data for around 750,000 patients annually since 2007. The programme, commissioned by NHS England, is used to improve and regulate services, evaluate health inequalities and inform policy.

This survey aided understanding the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on primary care, including questions on avoiding appointments for fear of catching coronavirus and remote appointments, the main mode of appointment during the pandemic.

GPPS uses a simultaneous push-to-web approach, where participants receive postal invitations and reminders, including log-in details for the online survey and a paper questionnaire, and SMS reminders with a personalised link to the online survey. A sequential push-to-web approach, where a paper questionnaire is only included in the final mailing, reduces printing costs and encourages online participation. Online responses are cheaper and have higher data quality, as validation rules can be built in and missing data tends to be lower. However, previous experiments have shown that sequential push-to-web is less effective among older people, and require a break in trends due to mode effects.

To understand the feasibility of sequential push-to-web, an experiment was conducted on a proportion of the 2022 sample, to test:
• Maintaining the current simultaneous push-to-web approach
• Moving to a sequential push-to-web approach for everyone
• Targeting simultaneous push-to-web for those aged 65+, and sequential push-to-web for under 65s

The analysis showed that targeting additional paper questionnaires at those aged 65+ can result in a higher response rate and limit the impact of mode effects, when compared with universal sequential push-to-web. Comparison against previous experiments also showed the increase in uptake for this age group during the pandemic.


Miss Cyrielle Devriendt (Kantar Public) - Presenting Author
Mr Yves Fradier (Kantar Public)

The SHARE survey is a multidisciplinary longitudinal study launched in 2004 and conducted in nearly 20 European countries and Israel. It is conducted face-to-face with a panel of people aged 50 and over and their possible spouses. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, it was agreed that the face-to-face survey would not be carried out in the traditional way as for the main data collection.
The intention was to react quickly to produce rapid knowledge on the subject and to exploit the potential of the SHARE panel. A shortened version of the questionnaire was administered by interviewers by telephone, during two SHARE-Covid waves conducted before wave 9.
The usual face-to-face interviewers, having built up a relationship of trust over the years that should not be broken, administered the questionnaire to panelists by telephone. The challenge of a telephone fieldwork conducted by face-to-face interviewers was to correctly administer the questionnaire by telephone on software created by the client, which was not designed for this longitudinal study. In wave 2, new ergonomic features were implemented to facilitate the work of the face-to-face interviewers. This methodological change, imposed by the health crisis, was perceived very positively by the respondents. These two waves made it possible to maintain the existing link with a view to constantly improving the "panel care" for wave 9 face-to-face.
During the classic wave 9, in November 2021, the methodology of F2F interviews in the homes of the panelists was resumed. The study was able to proceed correctly thanks to the work undertaken for two years by the interviewers during the two telephone waves. For some elderly people, this study allowed them to get out of their solitude.

Challenges and Benefits of Including Institutionalized, Cognitively Impaired, and Unable-to-Respond Individuals in a Representative Survey of the Very Old

Dr Roman Kaspar (ceres)
Mrs Andrea Albrecht (ceres)
Dr Jaroslava Zimmermann (ceres)
Dr Judith Wenner (University of Cologne) - Presenting Author

Institutionalization, cognitive impairment, and the inability to conduct an interview due to health impairment are among the top exclusion criteria for most large-scale social and aging surveys. Reservations about targeting vulnerable groups result from economic or legal restrictions of recruitment and concerns regarding research ethics or the validity of the data obtained. However, failure to include these individuals may lead to substantial bias. Metadata showed that privileged data access and checks against nursing home repositories prevented the undercoverage of institutionalized individuals. Measures to include difficult-to-survey groups led to a marked increase in response rates. Individuals with health impairments substantially contributed to the representativity of the sample. Nonresponse bias was cut in half when compared with a less inclusive study protocol. From a Total Survey Error perspective, reductions in nonresponse bias, low item-nonresponse, and evidence of measurement invariance across self-reports and proxy reports for key outcome variables show significant benefits of including difficult-to-survey groups in estimating characteristics of this population.