The Placement of Demographic Questions in Surveys (IO Psychology)

Topic: Surveys
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (SEP 2012)
Article: Demographic question placement: Effect on item response rates and means of a Veterans Health Administration survey
Authors: R. Teclaw, M. C. Price, & K. Osatuke
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

Imagine that you’re taking a survey for your company, and you’re immediately given demographic questions. Now imagine that you’re asked about your demographics at the end of the survey. Are you more likely to respond to the demographic questions in the first situation or the second? Would answering demographic information right away affect your responses to the survey?

In I-O psychology and in many HR departments, there has been debate about the placement of demographic questions. Some argue that asking about demographics will decrease responding, others contest that it doesn’t matter, and others maintain that it will change the responses themselves.

In a recent study, Robert Teclaw and his colleagues analyzed data from over 75,000 Veterans Administration (VA) surveys. They found that when demographic questions were asked first, respondents were more likely to answer them. There wasn’t really a difference in response rates for the regular survey items, and the means for the survey items were also similar for those who received demographic questions first and those who were asked about their demographics last.

While more research still needs to be conducted to better understand the effect of demographic question placement, it appears from this study that asking about demographics at the beginning of a survey won’t adversely affect responses and will even increase response rates for the demographic questions.

Teclaw, R., Price, M. C., & Osatuke, K. (2012). Demographic question placement: Effect on item response rates and means of a Veterans Health Administration survey. Journal of Business and Psychology, 27, 281-290. doi: 10.1007/s10869-011-9249-y

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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