Response Burden: What Predicts It and Who is Burdened Out?

Scott S. Fricker, Ting Yan, and Shiao-Lin Shirley Tsai

Abstract

Concerns about the burden that surveys place on respondents have a long history in the survey field. As early as the 1920s, survey researchers and practitioners expressed concern about the potential negative impacts of response burden. However, a review of the response burden literature reveals that conceptualizations and measures of burden are still underdeveloped, and as a result findings from empirical research in this area remain equivocal. The Consumer Expenditure Quarterly Interview Survey includes survey questions to measure respondents’ perceptions of burden and their attitudes and perceptions about the survey. We examined these data using structural equation modeling in an attempt to address some of the gaps in this literature, focusing especially on the survey characteristics and respondent attitudes affecting perceptions of burden. We found that respondents’ subjective perceptions of the survey task had significant direct impacts on burden. Survey features that commonly have been used as standalone proxy measures of burden (e.g., length of interview) had no direct impact, but contributed significantly to the model through their joint effects on subjective assessments of the survey and burden. Finally, we found a significant negative association between respondent motivation and burden. These findings support the notion of burden as a subjective, multidimensional phenomenon, and underscore that the impact of any given survey feature on burden will vary across respondents on the basis of measurable subjective reactions and attitudes.