Background The Family Affluence Scale (FAS) is a widely-used survey scale in health inequalities research, originally developed in 1998 to measure the material affluence of young people as a proxy for socioeconomic status. The FAS items seek to elicit the following information about families: their material resources; their patterns of consumption; and their purchasing power in different countries across Europe and North America. In 2012, a project was conducted to update and revise the FAS to improve its relevance for measuring material affluence in young people. This study explored the acceptability of the candidate FAS items to participants; in particular: issues of comprehension; cultural differences; and sensitive ethical issues.
Methods Eight countries took part in this revision project, including Scotland. The Scottish data collection involved visiting 18 schools and sampling from the most- and the least-economically deprived schools, and from ages 11, 13 and 15 years. A mixed-method design was developed and had the following components: a school-based survey which tested new items; a school-based test-retest survey; a parent survey; cognitive interviews with participants who were surveyed; and focus group discussions on participants’ perceptions of family affluence and wealth. This paper reports from the fieldnotes written after conducting research on the topic of material affluence in one of the most deprived secondary schools in the Scottish sample.
Discussion The fieldnotes reflect on the emotional and ethical uneasiness - and at times, awkwardness - experienced by the researcher. Questions around the topic of material ‘affluence’ proved to be very sensitive for some of the participants. For example, one participant was filling out his survey and had already answered some questions before he was invited to take part in a cognitive interview whereby he talked the researcher through his answers. He had already selected ‘yes’ to the question ‘do you ever go to bed hungry?’. This was an uncomfortable moment where the participant defended his family, lest the researcher had been given a ‘bad impression’ of how much his family cared for him.
Conclusion The conclusion questions the ethical suitability of asking this population to explicitly reflect on their materially-deprived circumstances, and in particular asking them to compare themselves better-off ‘others’. It offers suggestions for future research methods practices in health inequalities research.
- child health
- health inequalities
- research methods
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