Answer Refused: Exploring How Item Non-response on Domestic Abuse Questions in a Social Survey Affects Analysis




domestic abuse prevalence, domestic violence, ethics of imputation, item non-response, longitudinal data, missing data


We explore the pattern, potential drivers, and implications of item non-response on survey questions about domestic abuse. We draw on a longitudinal representative prospective survey on children and their families in Scotland (N:3646) and use multivariate regression models to look at non-response on domestic violence questions among mothers of young children. By triangulating data from multiple survey sweeps we hypothesise that item non-response may be due to mothers experiencing violence, and we observe that factors which predict experiencing violence also predict item non-response. We compare conservative and generous dependent variables on domestic abuse prevalence and find that both yield similar results in multivariate models, but that the actual social gradient of domestic violence is likely to be steeper than we can see in survey data. We discuss the ethical implications of imputing missing data and argue that sometimes it is unethical to do so.

Author Biographies

Valeria Skafida, University of Edinburgh

Valeria Skafida, PhD, is Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh. Her research uses mostly longitudinal social survey data to look at changes in children’s health and wellbeing over time. She is currently undertaking longitudinal quantitative research to explore how children are affected by growing up in homes where mothers experience domestic abuse.

Fiona Morrison, University of Stirling

Fiona Morrison, PhD is Lecturer at the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection. Her research interests are in the areas of children’s rights, child welfare, domestic abuse and research with children. She is currently undertaking research on innovation in social care in responding to domestic abuse and on reforms made to child and family law in Scotland.

John Devaney, University of Edinburgh

PhD is Centenary Chair of Social Work at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on how we understand the needs of children living with adversity and vulnerability, particularly in regard to family violence. Recent studies have sought to explore how we work to both protect and support children in relation to their physical and emotional wellbeing.


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How to Cite

Skafida, V., Morrison, F., & Devaney, J. (2022). Answer Refused: Exploring How Item Non-response on Domestic Abuse Questions in a Social Survey Affects Analysis . Survey Research Methods, 16(2), 227–240.




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