January 23, 2019

Can a List Experiment Improve Validity of Abortion Measurement?

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Authors: Suzanne O Bell & David Bishai

Journal: Studies in Family Planning, 50(1). January 2019

Although induced abortion is common, measurement issues have long made this area of research challenging. The current analysis applies an indirect method known as the list experiment to try to improve survey‐based measurement of induced abortion. We added a double list experiment to a population‐based survey of reproductive age women in Rajasthan, India and compared resulting abortion estimates to those we obtained via direct questioning in the same sample. We then evaluated list experiment assumptions. The final sample completing the survey consisted of 6,035 women. Overall, 1.8 percent of the women reported a past abortion via the list experiment questions, whereas 3.5 percent reported an abortion via the direct questions, and this difference was statistically significant. As such, the list experiment failed to produce more valid estimates of this sensitive behavior on a population‐based survey of reproductive age women in Rajasthan, India. One explanation for the poor list experiment performance is our finding that key assumptions of the methodology were violated. Women may have mentally enumerated the treatment list items differently from the way they enumerated control list items. Further research is required to determine whether researchers can learn enough about how the list experiment performs in different contexts to effectively and consistently leverage its potential benefits to improve measurement of induced abortion.

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