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Locating and Contacting Respondents After a 50-year Hiatus in a Longitudinal Study: Results from the Project Talent Pilot Test

*Celeste Stone, American Institutes For Research 
Jenny Bandyk, University of Michigan, Survey Research Center 
Danielle Battle, American Institutes for Research 
Sandy Eyster, American Institutes For Research 
Patty Maher, Univesity of Michigan 

Keywords: respondent tracking, incentives, response rates, nonresponse bias

This paper contributes to research on locating study participants after a very lengthy period of non-contact (e.g., Clarrige, Sheehy, & Hauser 1976; Hampson et al 2001; Hauser 2005; Kimmel & Miller 2008; Ortiz & Ballon-Godinez 2007). We will analyze data from the 2011 Project Talent Pilot Test, conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the University of Michigan, to evaluate the success of tracking activities to locate participants in a longitudinal study who were last contacted more than 30 years ago. Locating study participants is crucial to the success of a 50-year Project Talent follow-up study.

Project Talent is a large, nationally representative longitudinal study of men and women who were in high school in 1960. AIR collected extensive information in four half-days of testing on the characteristics, personality, and cognitive abilities of approximately 440,000 high school students. Follow-up surveys were conducted 1, 5, and 11 years after high school graduation. Participants were sent an annual newsletter that included a request for contact information updates; however, 1978 was the last year of contact. In 2009, AIR began employing multiple methods to locate individuals, including batch tracking and outreach activities (e.g., attending high school reunions, newsletters, press releases, Project Talent Web site, offering 1960 “scores”).

A Pilot Test of approximately 4,000 Project Talent participants will be fielded in September 2011. We will examine the results to assess the accuracy of the address information, and success of reengaging participants in a study where their last contact was up to 50 years prior. We will evaluate and contrast the effectiveness of the different locating techniques and incentives, with particular attention to the representativeness of the resulting sample. The results will be used to evaluate the feasibility of conducting follow-up studies with the larger Project Talent sample.

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