Background: Little is known about the associations between non-response to follow-up surveys and mortality, or differences in these associations by socioeconomic position in studies with repeat data collections.
Methods: The Whitehall II study of socioeconomic inequalities in health provided response status from five data collection surveys; Phase 1 (1985-88, n = 10 308), Phase 5 (1997-99, n = 6533), and all-cause mortality to 2006. Odd-numbered phases included a medical examination in addition to a questionnaire.
Results: Non-response to baseline and to follow-up phases that included a medical examination was associated with a doubling of the mortality hazard in analyses adjusted for age and sex. Compared with complete responders, responders who missed one or more phases, but completed the last possible phase before they died, had a 38% excess risk of mortality. However, those who missed one or more phases including the last possible phase before death had an excess risk of 127%. There was no evidence that these associations differed by socioeconomic position.
Conclusion: In studies with repeat data collections, non-response to follow-up is associated with the same doubling of the mortality risk as non-response to baseline; an association that is not modified by socioeconomic position.