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Domestic Abuse

In this video Professor Michael Spagat interviews Professor Dan Anderberg about domestic abuse. The way you ask the questions matters hugely.

I was genuinely astonished by an effect that Professor Dan Anderberg mentioned at the beginning of this interview; leaving women alone to answer questions about domestic abuse triples the reported rates relative to what is measured in face-to-face interviews.

There could hardly be a better demonstration of how methods of measurement matter.

Dan Anderberg is Professor of Economics at Royal Holloway University of London. His research interests are in the areas of family economics and public economics. He is also affiliated with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (London) and a CESifo Research Fellow (Munich).

I can’t resist drawing your attention to a recent research disaster that is reminiscent of the interview technique that Dan describes in the interview. A recent book used something called the American Time Use Survey to argue that many people are very unhappy in their marriages but won’t admit this fact in front of their spouses. It turns out that this claim is based on a misunderstanding of what the phrase “spouse not present” means in the survey.

The respondents classified as spouse-not-present are actually people whose spouses were living in a different house, not people whose live-in spouses were temporarily out of the room during part of their interview. Of course, it’s not so surprising that people who have physically separated from their spouses are less happy on average than people who are still living with their spouses.

Ooops.

Again, the lesson is that careful measurement is crucial.

Discussion

Feel free to share in the comments area any interesting mismeasurement stories you may know about

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