Background: Declining response rates pose a serious threat to the validity of estimates derived from epidemiological studies. If respondents and non-respondents differ systematically from each other, there can be a bias in the results of the study. A population-based cohort study was conducted to investigate disparities in socioeconomic structure between respondents and non-respondents and the contribution of these disparities to socioeconomic differences in total and cardiovascular mortality.
Design: Data comprised 32 354 male and female participants and 4890 non-participants aged 35–74 years who belonged to the sample in one of the five FINRISK surveys in 1972, 1977, 1982, 1987 or 1992 in Finland. They were followed up for 9 years and 6 months.
Results: It was found that the lower socioeconomic groups were over-represented among non-respondents both in men and women. When comparing the relative risk of death using the highest socioeconomic group of the participants as the reference group, it was found that although the socioeconomic gradient was similar for participants and non-participants—that is, lower groups had a higher risk of death—the risk was at a higher level among non-respondents.
Conclusions: Basing analysis on participants does not distort the relative risk of death associated with socioeconomic position. However, it does underestimate the absolute risk.
- ISCED, International Standard Classification of Education
- SES, socioeconomic status
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Competing interests: None declared.