How cellphoners are different from landliners
January 12th, 2009

We learn how cellphoners are different from landliners, the context of complicating collection of health statistics, in a Washington Post report. Here are some of the facts and complications:

The federal government’s main tool for measuring the health habits of Americans, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), uses the telephone to interview a nationwide sample of adults (470,000 this year). Historically, interviewers called only conventional telephones, as all but the 2 to 3 percent of households with no phones at all could be reached through them. But that’s not remotely true anymore.

Surveyors, however, cannot just extrapolate from the land-line respondents. That’s because studies have shown that people who have only cellphones are different from people who don’t have them or use them only occasionally.

Young people, men and Hispanics are all more likely than the “average” American to have cellphones only. But those demographic factors don’t explain everything. Even after they are taken into account by statistical means, cellphone-only users are different. . . .

Federal law requires that calls to cellphones be hand-dialed; it is illegal to use automatic dialers, which are standard tools for survey and polling firms. Furthermore, a huge fraction of “owners” of cellphone numbers are children ineligible for the health surveys. Once reached, some cellphone users are reluctant to talk at length because they have to pay for incoming calls.

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