J Glob Health. 2023 Jan 30;13:04002. doi: 10.7189/jogh.13.04002.
BACKGROUND: Interviewer effects can have consequential impacts on survey data, particularly for reporting sensitive attitudes and behaviours such as sexual activity and drug use, yet these effects remain understudied in low- and middle-income countries. The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) present a unique opportunity to study interviewer effects on the self-report of sensitive topics in low- and middle-income countries by including interviewer characteristics data. This paper aims to narrow the gap in research on interviewer effects by studying the effects that age difference between interviewer and respondent and interviewer survey experience have on the reporting of ever having sexual intercourse.
METHODS: We used DHS data from 91 066 women and 56 336 men in 21 countries where the standard DHS was implemented among all women of reproductive age, and interviewer characteristics were included in the data set. Using a Bayesian cross-classified model with random intercepts for interviewer and cluster, we assessed whether the effect of an age difference of 10 years or greater was associated with a difference in self-report of ever having sexual intercourse, adjusting for respondent demographics.
RESULTS: There was a meaningful association between an age difference of greater than ten years and reporting of ever having had sexual intercourse in most countries for both genders after adjusting for interviewer age and experience, rural or urban cluster, and individual-level characteristics. Among women, the marginal posterior probability of reporting ever having sexual intercourse if the interviewer was ten years or more years older was lower for 17 of 19 countries (countries ranged from -12.50 to 3.90 percentage points). Among men, the marginal posterior probability was lower for 16 of 20 countries, ranging from -18.30 to 17.10 percentage points.
CONCLUSIONS: In most countries, women and men were less likely to report ever having sexual activity if the interviewer was ten or more years older than them, adjusting for potential confounders. These findings have important implications for interpreting numerous sexual health indicators, such as unmet family planning needs and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) risk. Survey administrators may consider more careful interviewer-respondent characteristic matching or novel approaches like Audio Computer Assisted Self Interview to minimize interviewer-induced variance.