Substantive Meanings of Missing Data in Family Research: Does “Don't Know” Matter?

Jennifer Pearce-Morris, Seung won Choi, Veronica Roth, Rebekah Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In this article we analyze “don't know” responses from three sources of longitudinal data: the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (n = 14,528), the National Survey of Families and Households (n = 5,488), and the National Health Interview Survey Second Longitudinal Study of Aging (n = 1,131). We asked whether these responses are meaningful in family research, and, if so, how evaluating these responses can contribute to the development of theory, the discovery of novel findings, and identification of sensible methods for analyzing these nebulous responses. We found that “don't know” responses to questions about family members predicted less educational attainment, poor marital quality, and earlier mortality. Results suggest that this response category may have substantive meanings rather than indicating neutral responses or being missing data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-690
Number of pages26
JournalMarriage and Family Review
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 15 2014


  • measurement
  • missing data
  • nonresponse
  • regression
  • relationship ambivalence
  • survey research


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