Background: To examine the trend of "mobile only" households, and households that have a mobile phone or landline telephone listed in the telephone directory, and to describe these groups by various socio-demographic and health indicators.
Method: Representative face-to-face population health surveys of South Australians, aged 15 years and over, were conducted in 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 (n = 14285, response rates = 51.9% to 70.6%). Self-reported information on mobile phone ownership and usage (1999 to 2008) and listings in White Pages telephone directory (2006 to 2008), and landline telephone connection and listings in the White Pages (1999 to 2008), was provided by participants. Additional information was collected on self-reported health conditions and health-related risk behaviours.
Results: Mobile only households have been steadily increasing from 1.4% in 1999 to 8.7% in 2008. In terms of sampling frame for telephone surveys, 68.7% of South Australian households in 2008 had at least a mobile phone or landline telephone listed in the White Pages (73.8% in 2006; 71.5% in 2007). The proportion of mobile only households was highest among young people, unemployed, people who were separated, divorced or never married, low income households, low SES areas, rural areas, current smokers, current asthma or people in the normal weight range. The proportion with landlines or mobiles telephone numbers listed in the White Pages telephone directory was highest among older people, married or in a defacto relationship or widowed, low SES areas, rural areas, people classified as overweight, or those diagnosed with arthritis or osteoporosis.
Conclusion: The rate of mobile only households has been increasing in Australia and is following worldwide trends, but has not reached the high levels seen internationally (12% to 52%). In general, the impact of mobile telephones on current sampling frames (exclusion or non-listing of mobile only households or not listed in the White Pages directory) may have a low impact on health estimates obtained using telephone surveys. However, researchers need to be aware that mobile only households are distinctly different to households with a landline connection, and the increase in the number of mobile-only households is not uniform across all groups in the community. Listing in the White Pages directory continues to decrease and only a small proportion of mobile only households are listed. Researchers need to be aware of these telephone sampling issues when considering telephone surveys.