Social Isolation in America: An Artifact
46 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2012
Date Written: July 5, 2012
Is social connectedness in the United States truly declining? This research examines whether existing estimates of network size and social isolation, drawn from egocentric name generators across several representative samples, suffer from systematic biases linked to interviewers. Utilizing several analytical approaches, we find that estimates of network size found in the 2004 and 2010 General Social Surveys, as well as other representative samples, are impacted by significant interviewer effects. Across these surveys, there is a negative correlation between interviewer effects and mean network size. In the 2004 GSS, levels of social connectivity are strongly linked to interviewer-level variation and reflect the fact that some interviewers obtained highly improbable levels of social isolation. In the 2010 GSS, we observe larger interviewer effects in two versions of the questionnaire where training and fatigue effects among interviewers were more likely. The results support the argument that many estimates of social connectivity are biased by interviewer effects. The failure to elicit network data by some interviewers makes inferences, such as the argument that networks have become smaller, an artifact. Overall, this research highlights the importance of interviewer effects for network data collection and raises questions about other survey items with similar issues.
Keywords: social isolation, social networks, interviewer effects, survey methods
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