Patterns of non-response to a mail survey

J Clin Epidemiol. 1990;43(12):1427-30. doi: 10.1016/0895-4356(90)90112-3.


This paper describes a basic investigation of possible non-response bias in a mail survey. We compare characteristics of responders and non-responders to a mail survey of health outcomes among participants of a longitudinal study of physical activity, physical fitness, and health. Results indicate that, at the first clinic visit, the responders were essentially the same as the non-responders on personal health history and laboratory measurements, while reporting significantly more family history of specific chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke). The male responders were younger and reported more positive health behaviors as well as better weight and treadmill times at the first clinic visit. These results suggest that both response groups were equally healthy at entry, and that individuals who had family members with certain chronic conditions and who had positive health behaviors were more likely to respond (participate) in this health-related survey. Differences of this type could affect interpretation of future analyses. This work illustrates the importance of incorporating methods to examine non-response into any epidemiologic study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bias*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Longitudinal Studies*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Fitness
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*