Sensitive questions in cross-national comparative surveys

Sensitive questions in cross-national comparative surveys

Andreenkova A.V.

Dr. Sci. (Sociol.), Deputy Director of the Institute for comparative social research (CESSI), Moscow, Russia

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Andreenkova A.V. Sensitive questions in cross-national comparative surveys. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2017. No 12. P. 55-64


The article discusses theoretical and empirical study of “sensitivity” of different topics and survey questions regularly included in social-political surveys in cross-national and cross-cultural context. The author suggests the definition of “sensitivity” and outlines this concept with other characteristics of survey questions as “threatening questions” and questions with “social-desirability effect”. New methodological approach to study question’s sensitivity in cross-national context was tested in research project “The survey on sensitivity of questions about attitudes, opinions and behavior in post-Soviet countries”. The results of the survey confirmed that sensitivity is important aspect of many questions and topics used in surveys in post-Soviet countries. The perception of some topics and questions like income or risk behavior is very similar in all countries included in the survey. But for some topics and questions cross-national differences are rather large. The classification of sensitive questions is suggested based on the underlying motives driving the perception of survey questions as sensitive – the violation of judicial or political norms; social or moral norms or communication and privacy norms. Different motives lead to different strategies used by respondents to form the answer to sensitive questions which include avoiding answer to particular question, refusal to participate in the survey, providing biased information or the context effect for further questions. Different types of survey errors should be taken into account when cross-national comparisons based on survey data are used.

comparative cross-national surveys; data comparability; types of survey questions; sensitive questions; reasons of sensitivity; types of sensitive questions


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