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Exposure assessment
Reconstructing past occupational exposures: how reliable are women's reports of their partner's occupation?

Abstract

Objectives Most of the evidence on agreement between self- and proxy-reported occupational data comes from interview-based studies. The authors aimed to examine agreement between women's reports of their partner's occupation and their partner's own description using questionnaire-based data collected as a part of the prospective, population-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

Methods Information on present occupation was self-reported by women's partners and proxy-reported by women through questionnaires administered at 8 and 21 months after the birth of a child. Job titles were coded to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC2000) using software developed by the University of Warwick (Computer-Assisted Structured Coding Tool). The accuracy of proxy-report was expressed as percentage agreement and kappa coefficients for four-, three- and two-digit SOC2000 codes obtained in automatic and semiautomatic (manually improved) coding modes. Data from 6016 couples at 8 months and 5232 couples at 21 months postnatally were included in the analyses.

Results The agreement between men's self-reported occupation and women's report of their partner's occupation in fully automatic coding mode at four-, three- and two-digit code level was 65%, 71% and 77% at 8 months and 68%, 73% and 76% at 21 months. The accuracy of agreement was slightly improved by semiautomatic coding of occupations: 73%/73%, 78%/77% and 83%/80% at 8/21 months respectively. While this suggests that women's description of their partners' occupation can be used as a valuable tool in epidemiological research where data from partners are not available, this study revealed no agreement between these young women and their partners at the two-digit level of SOC2000 coding in approximately one in five cases.

Conclusion Proxy reporting of occupation introduces a statistically significant degree of error in classification. The effects of occupational misclassification by proxy reporting in retrospective occupational epidemiological studies based on questionnaire data should be considered.

  • Proxy-respondents
  • occupation
  • questionnaires
  • retrospective exposure assessment

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