Question Comprehension and Recall : The Reporting of Induced Abortions in Quantitative Surveys on the General Population

By Caroline Moreau, Nathalie Bajos, Jean Bouyer


The aims of this study on abortion underestimation are twofold. First, to compare the underreporting of induced abortion using different questions on this event from the same study, and the results from other recent French studies. Second, to estimate the classification errors due to misunderstanding of the terms used to describe induced abortion.
The data came from the COCON study on contraceptive use and induced abortion in France. A representative sample of 2,863 women aged 18-44 was used for the analysis.
Despite particular care over question wording, underestimation of induced abortion remained high (40%) in the COCON survey. Nevertheless, the study demonstrates the value of using a varied vocabulary to describe induced abortion, since this reduces classification errors and improves data quality. The study also raises questions about the significance of underreporting, which seems to be a constant regardless of the survey design and the form of questioning. One factor is the difficulty of talking about an event experienced as a failure, but other explanations are also possible, in particular the reluctance to disclose health-related events in general.

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