Remembrance of Things past: Test-Retest Reliability of Retrospective Migration Histories

by James P. Smith, Duncan Thomas


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Matched retrospective life history data collected from the same individuals in two waves of the Malaysian Family Life Survey provide a unique opportunity to evaluate the quality of long-term recall data in a rapidly changing developing country. Recall quality, measured by consistency of incidence and dating of moves reported 12 years apart, is higher among the better educated. Respondents better remember more salient moves, those linked with other important life events such as marriage, childbirth or a job change and moves that lasted a long time. Migrations that dim in memory as time passes are typically shorter duration or local moves, often made while the respondent was young. The dating of moves also significantly improved when linked with other salient events. The authors findings suggest concrete and practical steps that can be followed to improve the quality of retrospective life-histories collected in field surveys.

Originally published in: Journal of Royal Statistical Society, v. 166, no. 1, 2003, pp. 23-49.

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