Open Access Research article

Comparison of indicators of material circumstances in the context of an epidemiological study

Thomas Matukala Nkosi12, Marie-Elise Parent123, Jack Siemiatycki23, Javier Pintos3 and Marie-Claude Rousseau123*

Author Affiliations

1 Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS)-Institut Armand-Frappier, 531, boulevard des Prairies, Laval, Québec, H7V 1B7, Canada

2 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada

3 Université de Montréal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM), Montréal, Québec, Canada

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011, 11:108  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-108

Published: 18 July 2011



Since individual-level income is difficult to collect, investigators often rely on group-based measures derived from census data. No study has assessed the use of residential property values as an indicator of individual material circumstances. We aimed to compare two proxy indicators of material circumstances, one based on residential value and the other on median census tract income, to self-reported household income.


We used data from a case-control study (1996-2002), restricting analyses to 676 residents of the Island of Montreal for whom the three indicators were available. The degree of discrepancy between the residential value index, census income, and self-reported household income - each in 5 categories - was estimated, along with overall and weighted Kappas.


When comparing residential value index and census income to self-reported household income, perfect concordance was observed for 38% and 30% of subjects, respectively; very good concordance, defined as ≤ 1 category difference, was observed for 76% and 69% of subjects, respectively. When compared to self-reported household income, overall and weighted Kappas showed stronger agreement with residential value index (weighted Kappa = 0.37, 95% CI: 0.32, 0.42) than with census income (weighted Kappa = 0.25, 95% CI: 0.20, 0.30).


A residential value index may provide a measure of material circumstances that is closer to self-reported household income than the commonly used census income. Each indicator presents advantages and disadvantages, and their choice may depend on study objectives and feasibility.