What you need to know:

Researchers have often used mailed invitations to ask people to participate in surveys. It is important to have enough people participate, and that they represent the population of interest. This study showed that postal recruitment methods are not cost effective in achieving representative samples of young people. When we chose young women from the Medicare Australia database and mailed them an invitation to participate in a survey only 5.4% of eligible participants completed the entire survey. At a cost of around AU$100 per participant this was not cost-effective. Innovative and flexible approaches with a focus on social media may hold the key.

What this research is about:

Population-based studies usually rely on randomly sampling methods to achieve samples that are representative of the larger population. In Australia, this has previously been achieved by using Medicare Australia’s health insurance database. This database has the most up-to-date age, sex and contact details of Australian citizens and permanent residence. The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health was able to successfully recruit a sample of 18-23 year old women in 1996 at a cost of AU$30 per participant using this approach. Since this time, response rates to population studies have declined. In this study we report on the cost-effectiveness of recruiting a representative sample of women aged 18-23 years living in NSW using the Medicare database for an online survey about contraception and unintended pregnancy.

What did the researchers do: 2

Using a stratified sampling frame (based on age and area of residence), a total of 900 young women were invited to participate in the pilot study. Assuming an 18% response rate, it was estimated that 150 participants would be achieved. Invitations were distributed by Medicare Australia on behalf of the research team in two batches using a modified Dillman protocol.

What did the research find:

Only 6.2% of eligible participants consented and initiated the survey. Of these, 5.8% completed at least one survey item and 5.4% completed the entire survey. The cost per participant was around AU$88 for survey initiation and AU$100 for survey completion.

How can you use this research:

Postal recruitment methods are not cost effective for achieving representative samples for young people. In a changing technological landscape, innovation and flexibility in recruitment strategies are required. Internet-based technologies (including social media) may hold the key but further research is required regarding the ability to achieve representative samples using this approach.

Contact person: Dr Melissa Harris: Melissa.Harris@newcastle.edu.au

Citation: Harris, ML, Herbert D, Loxton D, Dobson AJ, Wigginton B, Lucke J. Recruiting young women for health surveys: traditional random sampling methods are not cost-effective. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2014, 38 (5); p 495.

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