Accession Number:



Understanding Low Survey Response Rates Among Young U.S. Military Personnel

Descriptive Note:

Research rept.

Corporate Author:


Personal Author(s):

Report Date:


Pagination or Media Count:



This report documents research on survey nonresponse in U.S. military populations and U.S. populations more broadly, with special attention paid to younger age groups. In a 2012 survey of airmen conducted by the RAND Corporation for the Air Force Office of the Surgeon General AFSG, airmen in the youngest age group, ages 18 to 24, were the least likely to respond. Before analyzing the survey results, RAND researchers weighted the survey responses so that this group was represented proportionately in the analytic sample. The AFSG was interested in possible reasons younger airmen were less likely to participate. Further examination of the 2012 survey revealed that junior enlisted airmen were less likely to respond than noncommissioned officers and other officers including junior officers. We reviewed response rates from other recent military surveys and U.S. survey response patterns more broadly to determine whether this lower rate among younger populations is common or unique to the 2012 RAND survey. Shaped by the availability of information for these surveys, response rate was defined very simply as the number of completed surveys divided by the number of invited participants. Thus, the nonrespondent category combines those who were unaware of the survey, those unable to access it, and those unable or unwilling to complete it. Because the response-rate differences were not unique to the 2012 RAND survey, we explored possible explanations for the observed differences across age groups in surveys in general and made recommendations to encourage or facilitate the participation of young airmen in future surveys. The primary intended audiences for this report are U.S. Department of Defense DoD organizations that sponsor survey research and consume the survey results. This report might also interest researchers who administer such surveys.

Subject Categories:

  • Information Science
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Military Forces and Organizations

Distribution Statement: