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Collecting retrospective data: Accuracy of recall after 50 years judged against historical records


  • Berney, L. R.
  • Blane, D. B.


Recent interest in a lifecourse perspective on health inequalities will rekindle concerns about the accuracy of retrospective data. The present paper demonstrates that recalled information on some types of social circumstances can be obtained with a useful degree of accuracy using an interview technique which helps to minimize recall bias. Lifegrid information about social circumstances during their youth and childhood was collected from 57 subjects in early old age and compared with archive material of the same subjects' social circumstances recorded 50 years previously. A comparison of interview with archive data revealed that a substantial majority of subjects had recalled simple sociodemographic information after a period of 50 years with a useful degree of accuracy. Within lifecourse research, it is concluded, carefully collected retrospective data offer a valuable complement to birth cohort studies, provided that such usage is sensitive to the types of items of information which can, and can not, be recalled accurately.

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  • Berney, L. R. & Blane, D. B., 1997. "Collecting retrospective data: Accuracy of recall after 50 years judged against historical records," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 45(10), pages 1519-1525, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:45:y:1997:i:10:p:1519-1525

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Danzer, Alexander M. & Dietz, Barbara & Gatskova, Ksenia & Schmillen, Achim, 2014. "Showing off to the new neighbors? Income, socioeconomic status and consumption patterns of internal migrants," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 230-245.
    2. C. Juneau & T. Benmarhnia & A. Poulin & S. Côté & L. Potvin, 2015. "Socioeconomic position during childhood and physical activity during adulthood: a systematic review," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 60(7), pages 799-813, November.
    3. Jones, Ian Rees & Ahmed, Nilufar & Catty, Jocelyn & McLaren, Susan & Rose, Diana & Wykes, Til & Burns, Tom, 2009. "Illness careers and continuity of care in mental health services: A qualitative study of service users and carers," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(4), pages 632-639, August.
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    5. Till Stowasser & Florian Heiss & Daniel McFadden & Joachim Winter, 2013. "Understanding the SES Gradient in Health Among the Elderly: The Role of Childhood Circumstances," NBER Chapters,in: Discoveries in the Economics of Aging, pages 187-219 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Cacciotti, Gabriella & Hayton, James C. & Mitchell, J. Robert & Giazitzoglu, Andres, 2016. "A reconceptualization of fear of failure in entrepreneurship," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 302-325.
    7. Rebekka Christopoulou & Dean Lillard & Josè Balmori de la Miyar, 2013. "Smoking behavior of Mexicans: patterns by birth-cohort, gender, and education," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 58(3), pages 335-343, June.
    8. Graham, Hilary & Hawkins, Summer Sherburne & Law, Catherine, 2010. "Lifecourse influences on women's smoking before, during and after pregnancy," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(4), pages 582-587, February.
    9. Cope, Jason, 2011. "Entrepreneurial learning from failure: An interpretative phenomenological analysis," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 26(6), pages 604-623.
    10. Webb, Elizabeth Alice & Kuh, Diana & Pajak, Andrzej & Kubinova, Ruzena & Malyutina, Sofia & Bobak, Martin, 2008. "Estimation of secular trends in adult height, and childhood socioeconomic circumstances in three Eastern European populations," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 228-236, July.
    11. Christopoulou, Rebekka & Lillard, Dean R., 2015. "Is smoking behavior culturally determined? Evidence from British immigrants," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 78-90.
    12. Dieter von Fintel & Dorrit Posel, 2014. "Errors in recalling childhood socio-economic status: the role of anchoring and household formation in South Africa," Working Papers 18/2014, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics, revised 2014.
    13. Eric Defebvre, 2016. "Harder, better, faster... yet stronger? Working conditions and self-declaration of chronic diseases," TEPP Working Paper 2016-07, TEPP.
    14. Tampubolon, Gindo, 2010. "Recall error and recall bias in life course epidemiology," MPRA Paper 23847, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Singh, Smita & Corner, Patricia Doyle & Pavlovich, Kathryn, 2015. "Failed, not finished: A narrative approach to understanding venture failure stigmatization," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 150-166.
    16. Dang, Hai-Anh & Lanjouw, Peter & Luoto, Jill & McKenzie, David, 2014. "Using repeated cross-sections to explore movements into and out of poverty," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 112-128.
    17. Dieter Fintel & Dorrit Posel, 2016. "Errors in Recalling Childhood Socio-economic Status: The Role of Anchoring and Household Formation in South Africa," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 126(1), pages 119-140, March.


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