The effectiveness of a monetary incentive offer on survey response rates and response completeness in a longitudinal study

BMC Med Res Methodol. 2017 Apr 26;17(1):77. doi: 10.1186/s12874-017-0353-1.


Background: Achieving adequate response rates is an ongoing challenge for longitudinal studies. The World Trade Center Health Registry is a longitudinal health study that periodically surveys a cohort of ~71,000 people exposed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Since Wave 1, the Registry has conducted three follow-up surveys (Waves 2-4) every 3-4 years and utilized various strategies to increase survey participation. A promised monetary incentive was offered for the first time to survey non-respondents in the recent Wave 4 survey, conducted 13-14 years after 9/11.

Methods: We evaluated the effectiveness of a monetary incentive in improving the response rate five months after survey launch, and assessed whether or not response completeness was compromised due to incentive use. The study compared the likelihood of returning a survey for those who received an incentive offer to those who did not, using logistic regression models. Among those who returned surveys, we also examined whether those receiving an incentive notification had higher rate of response completeness than those who did not, using negative binomial regression models and logistic regression models.

Results: We found that a $10 monetary incentive offer was effective in increasing Wave 4 response rates. Specifically, the $10 incentive offer was useful in encouraging initially reluctant participants to respond to the survey. The likelihood of returning a survey increased by 30% for those who received an incentive offer (AOR = 1.3, 95% CI: 1.1, 1.4), and the incentive increased the number of returned surveys by 18%. Moreover, our results did not reveal any significant differences on response completeness between those who received an incentive offer and those who did not.

Conclusions: In the face of the growing challenge of maintaining a high response rate for the World Trade Center Health Registry follow-up surveys, this study showed the value of offering a monetary incentive as an additional refusal conversion strategy. Our findings also suggest that an incentive offer could be particularly useful near the end of data collection period when an immediate boost in response rate is needed.

Keywords: Data collection; Incentives; Non-response bias; Questionnaires; Response rates; Return rates; Survey response.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Surveys / methods*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Registries
  • Reward*
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Participation