The Landline Survey: An Antiquated Methodology

Back in the 1990’s, virtually every household had a landline, and people would answer the phone and talk to survey research callers. However, times have changed, even though some researchers are stubborn about admitting the change.  Landline households keep decreasing, while cell-phone only homes become the norm. To confirm the tendency (see National Center for Health Statistics1), QuestionPro Audience conducted a study with more than 350 respondents, to understand landline phone ownership and usage. We found that 92% of adults have a cell-phone, which is theoretically a great penetration for cell-phone surveys. The only challenge is that people do not answer cell phone numbers that they do not recognize. It is also against the law to dial cell phones automatically, meaning the labor costs for hand dialing is huge.

But, when talking about landline surveys, there is a clear pattern to the data. Only 48% of research participants indicated they have a landline service in the household.  Most respondents indicated that they never use a landline.   Thirty percent (30%) of respondents who have a landline stated that they use it only about once every other month, while 2% claimed that they never use it.  Moreover, what researchers find is that landline surveys skew heavily to the older population.  Finding people under 50 years of age with landlines is virtually impossible.

 Young adults are more likely to have cell phones only, and it fits their mobility and technology-wise lifestyle. Our research also shows that 20% of the respondents who have a landline suggested it is part of a bundled service.  In a last-ditch effort to keep landline companies going, the cable company puts landline service as part of a “package” that phone companies offer.  

At the same time, 11% have a landline as part of their home security system. In this case, the Home Security Industry is suffering the same tendency. Although they are moving into wireless systems2; having a landline is considered to be more of a safety net, as landlines typically offer a more stable connection.

Dr. Jim Kitchens, President of The Kitchens Group notes, “Phone surveys, whether landline-based or cell phone based are suffering the sample methodological problem.  The response rating has gotten so poor that it is skewing the samples.  The costs of executing the surveys are going up and the accuracy is going down.”  Researchers must address the problems caused by a changing lifestyle.  More than 90% of adults in America are online at least once a day.  While the methodological challenges of online surveys have not been completely solved, it is certainly possible to get a better cross-section of the population than with landline surveys.   

Select your respondents

1: National Center for Health Statistics

2: Park Associates Research. “Almost half of home security owners in the United States have a security system that connects wirelessly to sensors.”