Abdulrahim, S., Ajrouch, K.J., Jammal, A., Antonucci, T.C. (2012). Survey methods and aging research in an Arab sociocultural context—A case study from beirut, lebanon. Journals of Gerontology,
Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 67(6), 775–782, doi:10.1093/geronb/gbs083. Advance Access publication October 4, 2012
© The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.
All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Received August 8, 2011; Accepted August 21, 2012
Decision Editor: Merril Silverstein, PhD
Survey Methods and Aging Research in an Arab
Sociocultural Context—A Case Study from beirut,
Sawsan Abdulrahim,1 Kristine J. Ajrouch,2 Alicia Jammal,3 and Toni C. Antonucci4
1Health Promotion and Community Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of beirut, lebanon.
2Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Criminology, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.
3Department of Analysis, Information International, beirut, lebanon.
4Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Objectives. In Arab countries, the proportion of older adults is rapidly increasing, highlighting the need to conduct
research on factors that influence aging. We describe the context-specific challenges faced and the solutions negotiated
during the conduct of a survey study on family relations and aging in Greater beirut, lebanon.
Method. Drawing on the experience of a recently completed survey study, we reflect on the context-specific chal-
lenges faced and the solutions negotiated during the phases of questionnaire construction, interviewer training, sampling,
and participant recruitment as a means to contribute to the growing area of cross-cultural survey research.
Results. The social context of family relations influenced the nature of questions that can be included to obtain valid
information. The unavailability of demographic data and the presence of cultural norms that promote deference to older
adults also presented methodological challenges to the sampling and recruitment of older adults.
Discussion. We provided illustrative examples on the importance of learning about a country’s social and cultural
contexts, and the necessity of exercising flexibility in decision making to ensure the collection of valid data and the suc-
cessful completion of the study. lessons learned inform elements of the research process in an Arab country, as well as
bring to light unusual, yet generalizable, circumstances that will inform experiences in other cultural settings.
Key Words: Aging—Survey methods—Sociocultural context—lebanon.
results and to highlight elements of the research process in
need of special planning. Although researchers in academic
institutions are required to adhere to standard ethical prin-
ciples and follow rigorous methodologies (babbie, 2010),
they may confront unexpected challenges when a study is
set in a distinct social and cultural context. Reflecting on
the research process and the methodological challenges
encountered during various phases of a study may, there-
fore, be just as important as reporting the research findings.
International researchers often learn that achieving the goals
of a cross-cultural study requires flexibility in negotiating
alternative strategies, creativity in employing the limited
resources available, and an appreciation of the sociocultural
context in which the study is set (Harkness et al., 2010).
Though the concept of culture has traditionally been the
purview of anthropologists, its influence and meanings have
been increasingly studied in virtually all social science dis-
ciplines. Culture as a category of social life can be concep-
tualized as narrowly as a construct that captures “learned
behavior,” or as broadly and abstractly as a system devoted to
the “production, circulation, and use of meanings” (Sewell,
1999, p. 41). As such, taking account of culture in research
HE process of conducting cross-cultural survey research
merits systematic attention to guarantee the quality of
is important not only when conducting research in other
countries, but also in studies taking place in rural and less
developed regions or in distinct social classes in the same
country (Hartley, 2004; Sewell, 1999). Acknowledging the
importance of context in influencing the research process is
especially critical in social science research that focuses on
family and aging, as social values associated with the status
of older adults in families may differ dramatically between
cultures (Antonucci and Akiyama, 2004). Despite the cul-
tural diversity, lessons learned from one context frequently
uncover complex issues needing further investigation or
bring to light unusual but generalizable circumstances that
inform experiences in other cultural settings (Stake, 2000).
In this article, we draw lessons from our involvement in a
survey study aimed at examining family relations and aging
in Greater beirut, lebanon. Planning and data collection
for the study were carried out during the summer and fall
of 2009 and took place through collaboration between
academic researchers in the United States and lebanon,
and a local research firm. We highlight the context-specific
challenges faced and the solutions negotiated during the
phases of questionnaire construction, interviewer training,
sampling, recruitment of participants, and data collection.
Social science writings have identified specific challenges in
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conducting research and interpreting data in cross-cultural
settings (Altorki & El-Solh, 1988; berry, Poortinga, &
Pandey, 1997). Moreover, public health research in lebanon
has increasingly engaged process-related questions such as
the barriers to obtaining informed consent from children
or collecting valid data during times of war (Nakkash,
Makhoul, & Afifi, 2009; Yamout & Jabbour, 2010). The
current brief report is written in the spirit of expanding this
body of contextual knowledge. It is specifically devised to
inform researchers who have an interest in studying aging in
lebanon, the Arab region in general, or other settings (e.g.,
rural, less developed) in which the sociocultural context and
data limitations may influence the course of a research study.
Context of Aging in Lebanon
Aging in lebanon, and in the Arab region as a whole, follows
a similar pattern to that taking place in the developing coun-
tries of Asia and latin American. The Arab region has been
experiencing what Palloni and colleagues called a “silent
aging process” (Palloni, Peláez, & Wong, 2006; p. 149),
which is an outcome of sudden and compressed declines in
mortality taking place in a context of slow economic growth
(Wong, Peláez, Palloni, & Markides, 2006). The age structure
of the population in most Arab countries has been undergoing
dramatic changes as a result of fertility declines and increases
in life expectancy (ESCWA, 2010; Rashad & Khadr, 2002).
Population aging is becoming a new concern in the region
as a whole, and the proportion of older adults is increasing
at a particularly rapid pace in low-fertility countries, such as
lebanon and Tunisia (Yount & Sibai, 2009).
In 2005, the proportion of persons aged 60 and older in
lebanon was the highest in the region (10%) and is projected
to exceed 15% by the year 2025 (Sibai, Tohme, Yamout,
Yount, & Kronfol, 2012). This dramatic demographic shift
will inevitably pose medical, social, and financial challenges
related to the care of the elder poplation, particularly in light
of changing structural conditions that may impinge on cul-
tural ideals. The lebanese family has traditionally assumed
the responsibility of providing social and financial resources
to its older adult members and cultural ideals continue to
support intergenerational co-residence. However, high rates
of outmigration of young adults, as a result of continuing
political turmoil and economic uncertainties, will certainly
affect the quantity and quality of support aging parents
can expect to receive from their children. Close to 50% of
lebanese families have at least one member who emigrated
abroad between 1975 and 2000, and presently more than one
third of lebanese youth report that they would like to emi-
grate outside the country (Chaaban, 2009). Understanding
the consequences of emigration for the well-being of older
adults in any society requires attending to the context in which
this population dynamic takes place. Such factors are of
enormous concern to social scientists, especially those inter-
ested in better understanding the effect of family structure
on society as a whole. Though emigration of children can
exert negative consequences in terms of attenuating social
support, research in a developing country has shown that it
can also contribute positively to the financial well-being of
aging parents (Knodel & Saengtienchai, 2007). In lebanon,
where public services for elders are insufficient and remain
mostly provided by religious and nongovernmental organi-
zations rather than by state institutions (Cammett, 2011),
understanding the consequences of emigration and remit-
tances becomes central to designing informed aging policies
There are signs that high emigration already exerts an
effect on the living arrangements of older lebanese adults.
Findings from recently published studies show that the
proportion of older adults who live alone is 12% for both
genders and 17.3% for women (Sibai, baydoun, & Tohme,
2009; Tohme, Yount, Yassine, Shideed, & Sibai, 2010).
These proportions are higher than those reported in Africa
(8%), Asia (7%), and latin America (9%) (United Nations,
2005) and are at odds with cultural expectations. The chang-
ing demographic profile underscores the need to conduct
high-quality survey research to examine factors that influ-
ence healthy aging in lebanese society and the care older
adults expect from their children and other family members.
Study on Family Ties and Aging in Greater
In contrast to research and policy on aging in Asian and
latin American countries, which began in the early 1980s
with a number of large national and cross-national studies
(Wong et al., 2006; Andrews & Hermalin, 2000), attention
to aging in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North
Africa has only recently gained momentum. In response
to increased interest in studying social aspects of aging
cross-culturally, and the need to further explore how demo-
graphic trends will affect care provision to older adults in
lebanon, we planned a study to investigate the following
issues: intergenerational relations in lebanese families, the
perception of older adults as a burden versus a resource,
and beliefs about socially and culturally acceptable care
arrangements in old age.
To achieve these objectives, we began a program of
research focused on the topic of social relations. It included
multiple phases, beginning with an exploratory study in 2007
where focus group discussions were conducted in beirut and
the south of lebanon to obtain a sense of how social relations
are experienced. Cognitive interviews were also carried out
to determine the feasibility of using the hierarchical mapping
technique (Antonucci, 1986) to measure social relations
in lebanon. The exploratory phase was followed up with
observational data during a 6-month stay in lebanon during
2008 where family relations over the life course were the
focus of study. Additionally, a pilot survey was conducted
with 25 adults aged 60 and older during 2008. This survey
776 ABDULRAHIM ET AL.
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included the social network measure tested in 2007 and was
expanded to inquire about type and quality of relationships
with family and friends, as well as multiple questions about
health. Finally, in 2009, we designed a survey study with
a structured questionnaire to be administered to 500 adults
living in the Greater beirut area. About half of lebanon’s
population lives in two governorates (beirut and Mount
lebanon), which encompass the Greater beirut Area (WHO
UNDP, 2006). because one of the overarching goals of the
study was to generate policy-relevant knowledge based
on the perceptions, experiences, and expectations of older
adults in lebanese families, the study design incorporated
an oversampling of those aged 60 and older, with a gender
distribution that reflects the proportion of men and women
in Greater beirut. Furthermore, the survey design ultimately
provided future opportunities to compare and contrast social
relations of lebanese with other populations around the
world where similar measures were collected (e.g., United
States, Japan, France, Germany).
A contract was negotiated between academic research-
ers and an independent research firm located in beirut. The
team of three academic researchers represented the disci-
plines of psychology, sociology, and public health. Two of
the investigators had extensive experience in aging research.
The firm had ample experience working with social and
political science researchers from universities in the Arab
region and lebanon. The relationship between the research-
ers and the firm followed a collaborative model and involved
continuous and dynamic interaction at every phase of the
decision-making process to ensure methodological rigor
and data quality. Though survey research on older adults
in many respects resembles that conducted with other age
groups, scholars have highlighted special considerations
that need to be taken into account, such as striking a balance
between data quantity (length of the interview) and quality
(validity) (Andrews & Hermalin, 2000). Moreover, finding
the appropriate balance between standardization and accom-
modating to local issues in designing and implementing the
study are vital to the survey research enterprise (see Pennell,
Harkness, levenstein, & Quaglia, 2010). In the remainder of
this report, we highlight methodological issues we encoun-
tered related to successfully conducting the study on aging
in lebanon, particularly during the phases of questionnaire
construction, interviewer training, sampling, participant
recruitment, and data collection. lessons learned provide
new examples of how culture and survey methodology pro-
cesses combine, drawing attention to advancing develop-
ments in understandings of how each area of study (culture
and survey methodology) informs the other.
Setting the Stage: Questionnaire
Construction and Interviewer Training
Given the attention provided in social science research to
translating survey instruments and the key concepts they
seek to measure (Harkness, Pennell, & Schoua-Glusberg,
2004; McKay et al., 1996), the researchers followed rigor-
ous guidelines in the questionnaire construction and trans-
lation phases of the study. The survey instrument included
questions on norms of family relations; social networks and
social support; stress, health, and chronic disease; and soci-
odemographic information. After preparing a full draft of
the survey instrument in English, two professional transla-
tors were hired to translate it to Arabic. The two Arabic ver-
sions were compared and merged into one, which was later
back translated to English. The back translation was then
compared with the original English instrument. This step
was carried out to ensure linguistic equivalence, that is, that
the meanings of certain important concepts related to social
ties and familial exchanges had been captured in the Arabic
version. As a result, the instrument continued to undergo
modification through a process of negotiation between the
academic researchers, who were invested in generating data
on specific constructs related to family ties and aging, and
the research firm, whose contact person was concerned
with the feasibility of introducing certain types of questions
in the lebanese context.
To illustrate the instrumentality of these negotiations, we
describe one situation that arose in relationship to measuring
intergenerational financial transfers. The researchers, all
having received their training in the United States, included
a number of (what they perceived to be) straightforward
questions on the amount and frequency of financial support
participants provide to their aging parents. The representative
from the firm felt that these questions would generate
inaccurate data and might in fact offend some participants.
She explained that because providing for aging parents is
viewed as an obligation in Arab culture, the question may
elicit invalid answers simply because participants may not
be able to quantify the amount of financial support they
actually provide. She further argued that some participants
may feel insulted by an outsider asking them whether they
financially support their parents, given that not doing so is
culturally frowned upon. Such concerns may reflect similar
challenges in other cultures where family reputation looms
heavily in the decisions, attitudes, and behaviors expressed.
For instance, Uskul, Oyserman, and Schwarz (2010)
elaborate the significance of cultures (e.g., latin American,
Mediterranean, Middle Eastern), where family name and
honor contribute enormously to social identities, and the
resulting impact on the survey response process (Palmer,
1987). In particular, a concrete effort in such contexts is
made to not only present oneself in a favorable light, but
also close to others. The researchers discussed with the firm
alternative wording that might be included to successfully
capture the concept of interest. The final instrument included
a subjective question to directly measure perceptions on the
responsibility of family members versus the government in
shouldering financial support to older adults who are in need.
In addition, indirect questions were included, which would
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enable researchers to capture the amount of remittances
received among older adults who have emigrant children.
In many cases, survey researchers have devised indirect
measures when gathering data on sensitive issues (Tourangeau
& Yan, 2007). Recognizing that indirect questions provide
different information than direct questions, the researchers
decided to include indirect questions concerning monetary
intergenerational transfers out of respect for cultural norms,
as well as to ensure that data collected would have more
validity. This experience clearly highlights that researchers
can hold erroneous views of what constitutes a sensitive
research question in a certain context. As more cross-cultural
research on aging takes place, thought needs to be directed
toward constructing indigenous and valid measures that
capture financial transfers from children to aging parents in
Interviewer training is another phase of the research pro-
cess where close interactions between academic research-
ers and field workers helped facilitate communication and,
in turn, enhanced the quality and validity of data. Initially,
the firm had scheduled one half-day of training activities,
which provided enough time for the researchers to meet the
field workers, introduce the study, and review the question-
naire. The researchers requested another meeting to review
the questionnaire section by section and to engage the field
workers in mock interviews in order to detect any poten-
tial problems in administering the interview. The academic
researchers also requested that a post pilot test meeting be
scheduled in order to learn about the experiences and perspec-
tives of field workers first hand. These steps were undertaken
acknowledging that gathering even basic data about social
issues through existing western questionnaires presents com-
plex issues related to conceptualization and measurement
(Andrews & Hermalin, 2000; Heeringa & O’muircheartaigh,
2010; Uskul, Oyserman, & Schwarz, 2010).
After pilot testing was completed, the report from field
workers revealed a number of concerns related to obtain-
ing valid data from older adults. First, field workers indi-
cated that the instrument took much longer than expected
with older adults (on average 1 hr 30 min). This raised con-
cerns about the extent to which this age group was provid-
ing valid responses to questions placed in the second half of
the survey instrument. Second, field workers reported that
some questions, particularly those on social networks, made
them feel uncomfortable because the questions required that
names and personal information about family members of
the interviewee be provided. Third, even though research-
ers conducted mock interviews with each field worker as
part of the training, it was while pilot testing the question-
naire that challenges of gathering self-reported health data
though face-to-face interviews with older adults surfaced.
Researchers discovered that field workers needed more train-
ing on how to record answers to self-rated health questions.
To address these concerns, the researchers removed a
number of questions (based on low variability identified
through previous data collections using the same questions),
thus reducing the interview length to approximately 1 hr.
This amendment had special relevance for older participants
to ensure that they were not burdened by the interview. It
was also decided to use response cards to which participants
could refer during the interview process. For older adults,
this would reduce reliance on memory and enhance the
validity of data. Moreover, the procedure to gather social
network data was shortened and amended to minimize the
perception of intrusiveness. To ease concerns about ano-
nymity and confidentiality while asking for names of social
network members, a new strategy was developed to collect
first and last name initials of network members as opposed
to full names. For older adults, this also helped protect
them from divulging preferences of network members in
any readily discernible manner. Finally, the concern raised
about gathering self-reported health data provided research-
ers with an opportunity to restate one of the main princi-
ples of survey research, namely, that the interviewer should
record an interviewee’s response as provided. We reiterated
that the interviewer is not at liberty to judge whether a par-
ticipant’s response is correct or legitimate. Specifically, the
researchers emphasized that the self-rated health question is
intended to be subjective and that, especially among older
adults, self-rated health is determined by a complex inter-
play of psychosocial factors in addition to the presence of
chronic conditions. Field workers were requested to record
a participant’s subjective health assessment as given by the
interviewee even if it did not seem consistent with their
own judgment of the respondent’s health. This point is par-
ticularly key for studies on aging where subjective ratings
reveal key insights about quality of life in old age above and
beyond objective health indicators (Jylhä, 2009).
Recruitment of Participants
Following the training and addressing concerns that arose
during pilot testing, researchers accompanied interviewers
in the field to observe how recruitment and data collection
ensued. They noted issues unique to the lebanese context
whereby the experience of field workers as well as the manner
in which the firm organized field work facilitated the research
process. because most residential neighborhoods in Greater
beirut are segregated by religious sect, the firm adopted a
strategy of matching interviewers and potential participants
based on religious composition of the neighborhood in
which a selected household is located. In lebanon, religious
sect matching of interviewer with neighborhood served
highly vital, much as same race matching is important in
contexts where race differences are salient (Hill, 2002;
Jackson et al., 2004). It became clear to researchers during
the field visit that this strategy served an instrumental
purpose; it facilitated entry of field workers into a household
and helped establish rapport based on a perceived shared
identity between interviewer and interviewee. The lebanon
778 ABDULRAHIM ET AL.
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case draws attention to specific demographic characteristics
in need of attention, highlighting a context-specific critical
attribute for matching interview characteristics (see Pennell
et al., 2010 for consideration of field staff issues in various
cultural contexts). Once the interviewer gained entry into a
household, however, the process of random selection and
recruitment required a different level of negotiation around
social expectations. For instance, interviewers could not
begin the interview right away but were required to take time
to develop a rapport or “warm up” the potential participant
by asking questions about his or her well-being, exchanging
comments about the weather, and accepting a cup of coffee.
These social expectations have long been identified by others
as crucial to carrying out research in the Arab world (Farah,
1987). Moreover, in many cases, where the first contact took
place with one household member but another member was
selected for participation in the study, the interviewer had to
convincingly explain the merit of random selection without
jeopardizing the rapport that had already been established.
This was even more difficult if arrangements had to be made
to return to the household if the randomly selected person
was unavailable. Such a request seemed strange to household
members who were present because they were available
and willing to be interviewed. Successfully negotiating
this situation required a high level of social competence.
Interviewers needed to communicate basic principles of
probability sampling and gain cooperation in scheduling
a return visit to interview another household member. At
the same time, they needed to take care not to imply that
opinions of other family members were less valuable.
The above experiences highlight that it is critical for
researchers to become involved during the interviewer
training phase of the research and to do so with the coopera-
tion of the research firm (Pennell et al., 2010). In this case,
whereas the firm conducted basic training, the researchers
took responsibility for study-specific training, following up
on pilot testing and monitoring data collection quality at the
initial stages. Researcher involvement in field worker train-
ing ensured collection of the highest quality data possible.
At the same time, the researchers relied on the expertise of
the firm and field workers to facilitate data collection while
taking care to respect cultural norms related to the status
of older adults in lebanese society. Researchers learned
that, in the context of lebanon, identity matching based on
religious affiliation is an important avenue for collecting
data. This had special relevance for older adults who had
lived through a civil war that lasted for 16 years, in which
a major component involved sectarian conflict. Researchers
also discovered the importance of continuous negotiations
with household members, who did not necessarily see the
merit of probability sampling, but believed that, because the
study is on the well-being of older adults, the best person to
interview was the oldest adult member of the family. This
became an issue that influenced the attainment of a prob-
ability sample and the recruitment of participants.
Sampling, Oversampling, and Data Collection
In survey research, generating a sampling frame and select-
ing participants are two of the most important steps in the
research process. Establishing the sampling frame, which
entails identifying all cases that should have an equal prob-
ability of selection, is not always possible or practical in
social science surveys (Heeringa & O’muircheartaigh,
2010; Singleton & Straits, 1999). This is the case even in
countries that have a tradition of collecting census data or
large-scale survey studies. In lebanon, social scientists
who wish to employ probability sampling in research face
numerous challenges. First and foremost, census data in
lebanon have not been collected since the 1930s, when its
population of less than 1 million was living under French
rule (Salibi, 1988). Since the country gained independence
in 1943, continuing political and sectarian conflicts have
stymied population-level data collection efforts (Traboulsi,
2007). As such, accurate information on the age distribution
and other sociodemographic characteristics of the lebanese
population are lacking. Obtaining an accurate demographic
profile is further hindered by a political system based on a
“delicate sectarian balance,” whereby data on religion and
other social indicators are highly contentious (El Khoury &
Taking these realities into account, one of the first issues
the researchers discussed with the firm revolved around
securing a probability sample for the study that accurately
represents the age distribution, socioeconomic, and religious
make-up in Greater beirut, and the collection of valid data.
Early on, the researchers requested that data collection take
place through household visits and face-to-face interviews.
Given the weak telecommunication infrastructure in
lebanon and the overreliance on mobile phones in a
context where many households do not have landlines, data
collection through telephone interviews was not an option.
Furthermore, due to concerns about the completeness and
validity of data, particularly since the researchers intended
to oversample older adults, the researchers decided against
The interactions between the firm and the researchers
proceeded with the researchers clarifying their expectations
with respect to sampling. Given that the firm had previously
carried out studies that relied on random but nonprobabil-
ity sampling (i.e., quota sampling), the researchers quickly
realized that they needed to clarify the definition of prob-
ability sampling. After reaching a common understanding
about what probability sampling entails, the firm presented
the researchers with two strategies by which to attain the
sampling specifications. The first strategy proposed would
have used voter registration records as a sampling frame
to select a stratified sample that represents all directorates
within Greater beirut. Knowing that voter registration in
lebanon is based on place of birth, not place of current
residence, the researchers did not feel this strategy was
acceptable. Alternatively, the firm suggested selecting a
SURVEY METHODS AND AGING RESEARCH
at University of Michigan on July 16, 2015
random sample of geographic clusters from each directo-
rate in Greater beirut, followed by a random selection of
households within each cluster. This design was mutually
agreed upon, given that it would allow for a sample rep-
resentative of the age, socioeconomic, and religious diver-
sity of the population, hence representing a “collaborative
sample design effort” (Heeringa & O’muircheartaigh, 2010,
Furthermore, because one of the main study objectives
involved attending to the experiences of older adults, the
researchers aimed to oversample persons aged 60 years
or older to constitute 30% of the final sample. In order to
decide on sampling specifications, the researchers and firm
examined available demographic data but found that dis-
tinct data sources provided different age distributions. The
researchers resolved to rely on the age distribution provided
in the 2007 national household survey, which reported the
proportion of persons aged 60 and older at 13.3% (lebanese
Ministry of Social Affairs, 2008). They discussed with the
firm how to oversample so as to attain the desired propor-
tion of 30% older adults. Adhering to oversampling pro-
tocols adopted in aging studies in latin America (Wong
et al., 2006), it was decided to do the following: (a) if the
household member selected through a random method is
aged 60 or older, that person would be included in the study
and (b) if the household member selected through the ran-
dom method is younger than 60 but there is another older
adult member residing in the same household, both indi-
viduals would be included in the study. Finally, to achieve
a response rate of 70%, the researchers requested that each
household be re-contacted at least 3 times on different days
of the week and at different times of the day.
At the end of the data collection, the researchers were
pleased to learn that the sampling specifications were
reached and that the sample included the desired proportion
of older adults. However, when the raw data and descriptive
analysis were received, the researchers observed discrepan-
cies in response rates between regions. They also discovered
that the oversampling strategy was followed in only a small
proportion of selected households and that the proportion
of 30% older adults could not have been attained by mere
chance. The researchers requested a meeting with the firm
during which they learned that field workers encountered
challenges in certain neighborhoods throughout Greater
beirut. In some neighborhoods, governed and served pri-
marily by one political party, permission was needed to enter
and conduct the study, an experience similar to that reported
by other researchers in lebanon (Makhoul, Abi Ghanem, &
Ghanem, 2003). Difficulty entering an area to collect data
is not a unique challenge (Pennell et al., 2010; Varughese,
2007), having been documented in various cultural locales.
Yet, such challenges have special implications for better
understanding aging and well-being in the lebanese case.
In lebanon, welfare and social services are often provided
by religious groups and political parties (Cammett, 2011).
because the area where interviewers were less successful
obtaining interviews were those controlled by religious
groups and political parties who tended to provide ser-
vices, it may be that older adults from the excluded neigh-
borhoods access more formal services than older adults in
neighborhoods more successfully surveyed. Unfortunately,
it is impossible to ascertain how this situation might have
influenced our findings concerning intergenerational rela-
tions and care expectations in old age.
Moreover, the researchers discovered during the meeting
that the firm adopted an alternative oversampling strategy
but did not communicate this to the researchers assuming
that the outcome (attaining the 30% proportion of older
adults) was the goal and that the process by which it was
achieved held less importance. Interestingly, adopting the
alternative strategy made reaching sampling specifica-
tions feasible because it worked synergistically with cul-
tural norms related to aging. In lebanese culture, family
members often defer to their elders on matters where they
perceive an authoritative voice is needed (Joseph, 1993).
In the specific case of our study, field workers encountered
situations whereby the household member selected through
the random method often deferred to an elderly household
member, indicating it more appropriate to solicit the elder’s
views on the topic of family ties and aging. Whereas the end
result achieved the age proportional goals of the research-
ers, the nonsystematic nature through which oversampling
of older adults was achieved place introduced an added
level of complexity, which will require a more involved
weighting of the data as analysis begins.
Aging has become a global challenge. Designing policies
to address the medical and social needs of older adults is a
pressing issue for high- as well as low- and middle-income
countries. Research on family relations and the well-being
of older adults in lebanon promises to inform theoretical
and practical knowledge on aging in the Arab region and
in other middle-income countries experiencing similar
demographic changes. This brief report provides insights
concerning the challenges faced in our study on family
ties and aging in lebanon and the successful solutions
negotiated. Though the issues faced reflect basic survey
research challenges (babbie, 2010; Harkness et al., 2010),
they do communicate the nature of survey research in
lebanon, providing insights for future research in the
region but also illustrating how and where challenges mirror
those experienced in other national or cultural contexts.
This brief report contributes to the growing interest and
concern with conducting research in diverse cultural
contexts. Of key interest are a country’s social realities and
cultural norms, both of which provide a critical backdrop
to potential challenges that may arise during the survey
research process. For example, it is important to recognize
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at University of Michigan on July 16, 2015
that the politics of data in a sectarian system shape the
data resources available and the strategies researchers
need to follow in order to sample older adults. Moreover,
cultural norms that promote deference to older adults on
certain issues may facilitate data collection but introduce
methodological bias. For example, in studying family ties
and aging in lebanon, randomly selecting a household
member may be at odds with the perceptions of family
members themselves about the best person to participate
in the study. Despite the challenges encountered, the
rewards of cross-national collaborations in aging research
provide critical contributions to the developing cannon on
social aspects of aging globally. Effective and meaningful
research in this area is best achieved when researchers
are open and flexible and when a mutual commitment to
both the process and outcome of research characterizes the
research collaboration. This involves willingness to openly
state issues in explicit terms, without assuming that ideas
and expectations are understood a priori. It also requires
reflexivity where both international researchers and a local
research firm think together critically about all aspects of a
research study to ensure its successful completion.
The lesson learned here is that attention to the political
and cultural contexts is highly important in some societies
and requires researchers to maintain open communication
with data collection firms throughout the entire research
process, not just during the preparation phase of a survey
study. In this case, challenges encountered involved the
politics of obtaining demographic information in a country
where religious sectarianism has impeded the collection of
population-based data for decades. This limitation made it
difficult to ascertain the age distribution of the population
and, in turn, influenced the researchers’ approach to over-
sampling older adults. Cultural norms further complicated
the process of oversampling. The firm felt it was their duty
to attain the oversampling specifications without troubling
researchers with details; they assumed that adopting an
alternative strategy did not constitute a breach in method-
ology and thus did not perceive the need to communicate
such a modification to researchers. On their part, research-
ers believed they were being kept abreast of any changes in
methodology, even those that facilitated the research pro-
cess. In sum, ongoing and open communication between
researchers and the data collection firm is crucial, helping
to address challenges that emerge over the course of aging
In sum, we believe this detailed account of collaboration
between academic researchers, and a research firm provides
key insights into the importance of a strong collaborative
relationship among partners. This can only be developed
through open communication, country-specific background
research, and attention to cultural norms. Such collabora-
tion significantly improves the probability of acquiring
high-quality credible data and is critical when conducting
aging research cross-culturally.
This research was supported by grants from the Michigan Center on the
Demography of Aging, the Doha International Institute of Family Studies
and Development, and the lebanese National Council on Scientific
Research. The authors of this report are fully responsible for its content,
which does not necessarily reflect views of the funding sources.
Correspondence should be addressed to Sawsan Abdulrahim, PhD,
Health Promotion and Community Health, Faculty of Health Sciences,
American University of beirut, PO box 11-0236, Riad El Solh 1107 2020,
beirut, lebanon. E-mail: email@example.com.
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