• Presentation

Reaching Low-income Populations for Telephone Interviews


Marks, E. L., & Olmsted, M. (2005, May). Reaching Low-income Populations for Telephone Interviews. Presented at American Association for Public Opinion Research 60th Annual Conference, Miami Beach, FL.


Achieving equitable participation from a broad array of demographic groups is of concern to survey researchers. The issue is particularly important in studying low-income populations who are often hard to reach through telephone surveys. A wide variety of factors contribute to low response rates among this group including lack of telephone service, frequent moves, and wariness toward the survey. This paper summarizes the literature on reaching low-income populations by telephone and reports on special efforts to maximize their participation in a telephone survey conducted with parents or guardians of children enrolled in Head Start. We expect that response rates among low income populations will improve when special efforts are made to remove barriers that impede their participation.

For the study discussed in this paper, several measures were implemented to maximize cooperation and response rates, such as working with Head Start to get better telephone numbers for sample members with nonworking telephone numbers, sending field representatives to sample members' homes who could not be reached by telephone, offering a cell phone for respondents to use to conduct the interview, mailing Federal Express letters to refusal cases, increasing the incentive paid to respondents, and hiring specialized interpreters (e.g., Arabic and American Sign Language) to accommodate sample member needs.

The presentation will report on the number and types of attempts to reach sample members and will assess the relative success of various methods used to encourage participation in the survey. Additionally, the presentation will address issues related to the relative costs and benefits of these activities, the effect on increasing cooperation rates, and demographic comparisons of easy- and hard-to-reach study participants. Implications for surveys of similar populations will be discussed.