The Effects of a Between-Wave Incentive Experiment on Contact Update and Production Outcomes in a Panel Study

Open access


Since 1969, families participating in the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) have been sent a mailing asking them to update or verify their contact information in order to keep track of their whereabouts between waves. Having updated contact information prior to data collection is associated with fewer call attempts, less tracking, and lower attrition. Based on these advantages, two experiments were designed to increase response rates to the between wave contact mailing. The first experiment implemented a new protocol that increased the overall response rate by 7-10 percentage points compared to the protocol in place for decades on the PSID. This article provides results from the second experiment which examines the basic utility of the between-wave mailing, investigates how incentives affect article cooperation to the update request and field effort, and attempts to identify an optimal incentive amount. Recommendations for the use of contact update strategies in panel studies are made.

Bornstein, R.F. (1989). Exposure and Affect: Overview and Metaanalysis of Research, 1968-1987. Psychological Bulletin, 106, 265-289.

Budowski, M. and Scherpenzeel, A. (2005). Encouraging and Maintaining Participation in Household Surveys: The Case of the Swiss Household Panel. ZUMA-Nachrichten, 56, 10-36.

Calderwood, L. (2010). Keeping in Touch with Mobile Families in the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Centre for Longitudinal Studies Working Paper Series 2010/7. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

Couper, M.P. and Ofstedal, M.B. (2009). Keeping in Contact with Mobile Sample Members. Methodology of Longitudinal Surveys, P. Lynn (ed.). New York: Wiley, 188-203.

De Leeuw, E., Callegaro, M., Hox, J., Korendijk, E., and Lensvelt-Mulders, G. (2007). The Influence of Advance Letters on Response in Telephone Surveys: A Meta-Analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71, 413-443.

Duncan, D.B. (1955). Multiple Range and Multiple F Tests. Biometrics, 11, 1-42.

Fumagalli, L., Laurie, H., and Lynn, P. (2010). Experiments with Methods to Reduce Attrition in Longitudinal Surveys. Institute for Social and Economic Research Working Paper 2010-04. Colchester: University of Essex.

James, T.L. (1997). Results of the Wave 1 Incentive Experiment in the 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation. Proceedings of the Survey Research Methods Section of the American Statistical Association. Washington, DC: American Statistical Association, 834-839.

Laurie, H. (2007). The Effect Of Increasing Financial Incentives In A Panel Survey: An Experiment On The British Household Panel Survey, Wave 14. ISER Working Paper, No. 2007-05. Colchester: University of Essex. Available at: (Accessed May 31, 2012).

Laurie, H., Smith, R., and Scott, L. (1999). Strategies for Reducing Nonresponse in a Longitudinal Panel Survey. Journal of Official Statistics, 15, 269-282.

Laurie, H. and Lynn, P. (2009). The Use of Respondent Incentives on Longitudinal Surveys. Methodology of Longitudinal Surveys, P. Lynn (ed.). New York: Wiley, 205-233.

Lee, A.Y. (2001). The Mere Exposure Effect: An Uncertainty Reduction Explanation Revisited. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1255-1266.

Mack, S., Huggins, V., Keathley, D., and Sundukchi, M. (1998). Do Monetary Incentives Improve Response Rates in the Survey of Income And Program Participation? Proceedings of the American Statistical Association, Survey Research Methods Section. Washington, DC: American Statistical Association, 529-534.

Martin, E., Abreu, D., and Winters, F. (2001). Money and Motive: Effects of Incentives on Panel Attrition in the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Journal of Official Statistics, 17, 267-284.

McGonagle, K.A., Schoeni, R.F., Sastry, N., and Freedman, V.A. (2012). The Panel Study of Income Dynamics: Overview, Recent Innovations, and Potential for Life Course Research. Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, 3, 268-284.

McGonagle, K.A., Couper, M.P., and Schoeni, R.F. (2011). Keeping Track of Panel Members: An Experimental Test of a Between-Wave Contact Strategy. Journal of Official Statistics, 27, 319-338.

Panel Study of Income Dynamics, public use dataset (2009). Produced and distributed by the Institute for Social Research, Survey Research Center. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Ribisl, K.M., Walton, M.A., Mowbray, C.T., Luke, D.A., Davidson, W.S., and Bootsmiller, B.J. (1996). Minimizing Participant Attrition in Panel Studies Through the Use of Effective Retention and Tracing Strategies: Review and Recommendations. Evaluation and Program Planning, 19, 1-25.

Rodgers, W. (2002). Size of Incentive Effects in a Longitudinal Study. Proceedings of the Survey Research Methods Section of the American Statistical Association. Washington, DC: American Statistical Association, 2930-2935.

Ryu, E., Couper, M.P., and Marans, R.W. (2006). Survey Incentives: Cash vs In-kind; Face-to-face vs Mail; Response Rate vs Nonresponse Error. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 18, 89-106.

Scherpenzeel, A., Zimmermann, E., Budowski, M., Tillmann, R., Wernli, B., and Gabadinho, A. (2002). Experimental Pre-Test of the Biographical Questionnaire, Working Paper, No. 5-02. Neuchatel: Swiss Household Panel. Available at: (Accessed May 31, 2012).

Singer, E. (2002). The Use of Incentives to Reduce Nonresponse in Household Surveys.Survey Nonresponse, R.M. Groves, D.A. Dillman, J.L. Eltinge, and R.J.A. Little (eds). New York: Wiley, 163-177.

Singer, E., Gebler, N., Raghunathan, T., van Hoewyk, J., and McGonagle, K. (1999a). The Effect of Incentives in Telephone and Face-to-Face Surveys. Journal of Official Statistics, 15, 217-230.

Singer, E., van Hoewyk, J., and Gebler, N. (1999b). The Effect of Incentives on Response Rates in Interviewer-Mediated Surveys. Journal of Official Statistics, 15, 217-230.

Journal of Official Statistics

The Journal of Statistics Sweden

Journal Information

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 0.662
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 1.113

CiteScore 2016: 0.63

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2016: 0.710
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2016: 0.975


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 37 37 14
PDF Downloads 11 11 4