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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Second-stage non-response in the Swiss health survey: determinants and bias in outcomes

Thomas Volken

Author Affiliations

Zurich University of Applied Sciences, School of Health Professions, Technikumstr. 71, P.O. Box, CH-8401, Winterthur, Switzerland

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:167  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-167

Published: 23 February 2013



Unit non-response occurs in sample surveys when a target subject does not respond to a survey. Potential implications are decreased power, increased standard error, and non-response bias. The objective of this study was to assess the factors associated with participation in a written survey (MSHS) of subjects who had previously participated in the Swiss Health Survey (SHS) and to evaluate to what extent non-participation could impact the estimation of various MSHS health outcomes.


Multivariate logistic regression was used to assess the factors associated with MSHS participation (n=14,393) by eligible SHS participants (n=17,931). Crude participation rates and the adjusted odds ratios of participation (OR) were reported. In order to report potential bias in MSHS outcomes, the average age-standardized and sex-specific outcome values in non-participants were predicted based on several different linear regression models which had been previously fitted on MSHS participants.


Adjusting for all other variables, women (OR=1.63) as compared with men, subjects with a secondary (OR=1.48) or tertiary education (OR=1.76) as compared with those with primary education, white-collar workers (high level non-manual workers OR=1.29, medium and low level non-manual workers OR=1.26 and OR=1.25 respectively) as compared with unskilled manual workers, Swiss nationals (OR=1.60) as compared to non-Swiss, and subjects with very good or good self-rated health (OR=1.35) were more likely to participate in the MSHS. People who work full-time were less likely to participate than those without paid work (OR=0.76). There were no statistically significant differences in the likelihood of participation between rural and urban areas, different geographic regions of Switzerland and household income quartiles.

Except for myocardial infarction, all age-standardized and sex-specific average outcomes (influenza vaccination, arthrosis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, depression, mastery, and sense of coherence) were significantly different between MSHS non-participants and participants.


Subjects who participated in the MSHS had a higher socio-economic status, reported a better subjective health, and were more likely to be Swiss nationals. Small to moderate bias was found for most age-adjusted and sex-specific average outcomes. Consequently, these MSHS outcomes should be used and interpreted with care.