Can Incentives Improve Survey Data Quality in Developing Countries? Results From a Field Experiment in India

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We report results of an experiment designed to assess whether the payment of contingent incentives to respondents in Karnataka, India, impacts the quality of survey data. Of 2276 households sampled at the city block level, 934 were randomly assigned to receive a small one-time payment at the time of the survey, whereas the remaining households did not receive this incentive. We analyse the effects of incentives across a range of questions that are common in survey research in less developed countries. Our study suggests that incentives reduced unit non-response. Conditionally on participation, we also find little impact of incentives on a broad range of sociodemographic, behavioural and attitudinal questions. In contrast, we consistently find that households that received incentives reported substantially lower consumption and income levels and fewer assets. Given random assignment and very high response rates, the most plausible interpretation of this finding is that incentivizing respondents in this setting may increase their motivation to present themselves as more needy, whether to justify the current payment or to increase the chance of receiving resources in the future. Therefore, despite early indications that contingent incentives may raise response rates, the net effect on data quality must be carefully considered.


  • Guy Stecklov
  • Alexander Weinreb
  • Calogero Carletto