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The researcher, the incentive, the panelists and their response – the impact of direct reciprocity on the panelists’ survey participation

Rolf Becker
Universität Bern


In this contribution, the hypothesis of reciprocity is tested directly in order to contribute to the explanation why an unconditionally prepaid monetary incentive (“money in the hand”) is the most effective and efficient strategy to boost response rates in surveys. In the context of a multiple-wave panel, Swiss juveniles who received cash are interviewed in an online survey on their attitudes to the norm of reciprocity. Their attitudes are used in the next panel wave to reveal the effect of direct reciprocity on the panelists’ propensity to start the completion of the online questionnaire. Applying longitudinal paradata of the fieldwork period and statistical procedures of event history analysis, it is found that panelists who agree with the norm of reciprocity are more likely to take part at the survey immediately after survey launch. It is also found that the obligation for reciprocation decays across time elapsed since the invitation to the survey. A number of reminders do not help to refresh the reciprocal obligation. Prepaid monetary incentives are necessary but not sufficient for enhancing the response rate. It is one of several strategies seeking to induce the target persons’ survey participation.