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The sensitivity of estimates of the change in population behaviour to realistic changes in bias in repeated surveys

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The first British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) was conducted in 1990–1991 and the second in 1999–2001. When surveys are repeated, the changes in population parameters are of interest and are generally estimated from a comparison of the data between surveys. However, since all surveys may be subject to bias, such comparisons may partly reflect a change in bias. Typically limited external data are available to estimate the change in bias directly. However, one approach, which is often possible, is to define in each survey a sample of participants who are eligible for both surveys, and then to compare the reporting of selected events that occurred before the earlier survey time point. A difference in reporting suggests a change in overall survey bias between time points, although other explanations are possible. In NATSAL, changes in bias are likely to be similar for groups of sexual experiences. The grouping of experiences allows the information that is derived from the selected events to be incorporated into inference concerning population changes in other sexual experiences. We use generalized estimating equations, which incorporate weighting for differential probabilities of sampling and non-response in a relatively straightforward manner. The results, combined with estimates of the change in reporting, are used to derive minimum established population changes, based on NATSAL data. For some key population parameters, the change in reporting is seen to be consistent with a change in bias alone. Recommendations are made for the design of future surveys.

Keywords: Bias; Generalized estimating equations; Sexual behaviour survey; Survey analysis; Weighted data

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University College London, UK 2: Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge, UK 3: University of Birmingham, UK

Publication date: November 1, 2004


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