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Cross-Cultural Sources of Measurement Error in Substance Use Surveys

NCJ Number
Substance Use & Misuse Volume: 38 Issue: 10 Dated: 2003 Pages: 1447-1490
Timothy P. Johnson; Phillip J. Bowman
Date Published
44 pages
This article presents an overview of the cross-cultural quality of survey reports of substance use behaviors in the United States.
Empirical studies that have examined one or more facets of substance use reporting across two or more cultural groups in the United States are evaluated. Substance use behaviors associated with tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use are included. The findings suggest that substance misuse researchers and the consumers of their research would be well advised to carefully consider the difficulties involved in cross-cultural survey measurement. These findings are interpreted in terms of alternative theoretical explanations that may be useful in understanding cross-group differentials in measurement error. Cross-group survey estimates would best not be accepted at face value without first considering the quality of the measurement procedures used. Assessments of reliability and validity using one or more of the procedures reviewed earlier would seem to be a minimal requirement for establishing the comparability of survey estimates across cultural groups. A set of strategies and recommendations are included that may prove useful for ensuring the quality of substance use reporting in multicultural surveys. The development of research designs that will permit direct evaluations of the relative utility of the alternative theoretical frameworks discussed is advocated for understanding cultural variability in substance use reporting errors. Future investigations that focus on evaluating potential explanations for differential reporting quality will be contributing to a second generation of cross-cultural research concerned with this topic, one that moves from description to explanation. To understand how culture influences the substance use reporting of survey respondents, culture will need to be “unpackaged.” Researchers should avoid the untested assumption that any relationships between culture and the quality of substance use reporting are linear. Opportunities for improved design of relevant survey measures include consultation and collaboration with cultural insiders and experts, the use of focus groups to better understand the concerns of each cultural group being asked to participate in a research study, the use of best practices for the development of survey questions, and the translation of survey instruments. 3 tables, 106 references