General Social Survey - Health (GSS)

Detailed information for 1991 (Cycle 6)




Every 5 years

Record number:


The two primary objectives of the General Social Survey (GSS) are: to gather data on social trends in order to monitor changes in the living conditions and well being of Canadians over time; and to provide information on specific social policy issues of current or emerging interest.

The core content on health covered short and long term disability, well-being, height and weight, health problems, smoking alcohol use, physical activity, sleep and use of health care services.

Data release - 1992


* Note: With the introduction of the National Population Health Survey (record #3225) in 1994, there was no longer a need to collect data in the health core subject area. This allowed for a new core to be introduced and social support was proposed. The General Social Survey - Social Support was first conducted in 1996 (see record #4502).

The two primary objectives of the General Social Survey (GSS) are: to gather data on social trends in order to monitor changes in the living conditions and well being of Canadians over time; and to provide information on specific social policy issues of current or emerging interest.

The core content on health covered short and long term disability, well-being, height and weight, health problems, smoking alcohol use, physical activity, sleep and use of health care services.

Statistical activity

This record is part of the General Social Survey (GSS) program. The GSS, originating in 1985, conducts telephone surveys. Each survey contains a core topic, focus or exploratory questions and a standard set of socio-demographic questions used for classification. More recent cycles have also included some qualitative questions, which explore opinions and perceptions.

Until 1998, the target sample of respondents was approximately 10,000 persons. This was increased in 1999 to 25,000. With a sample of respondents of 25,000, results are available at both the national and provincial levels and possibly for some special population groups such as disabled persons and seniors.


  • Health
  • Health care services
  • Lifestyle and social conditions
  • Society and community

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The target population includes all persons 15 years of age and older in Canada, excluding: 1. Residents of the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut 2. Full-time residents of institutions. Respondents were contacted and interviewed by telephone. Thus persons in households without telephones could not be interviewed. However, persons living in such households represent less than 2% of the target population.


This is a sample survey with a cross-sectional design.

Data for Cycle 6 of the GSS were collected monthly from January to December 1991. The sample was evenly distributed over the 12 months to counterbalance seasonal variation in the information gathered. Most of the sample was selected using the Elimination of Non-Working Banks technique of Random Digit Dialing (RDD). In order to carry out sampling, each of the ten provinces was divided into strata or geographic areas. Generally, for each province one stratum represented the Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) of the province and another represented the non-CMA areas. There were two exceptions to this general rule:

- Prince Edward Island has no CMA and so did not have a CMA stratum
- Montreal and Toronto were each separate strata

The Elimination of Non-Working Banks (ENWB) sampling technique is a method of Random Digit Dialing in which an attempt is made to identify all working banks for an area (i.e., to identify all banks with at least one household). Thus, all telephone numbers within non-working banks are eliminated from the sampling frame.

For each province, lists of telephone numbers in use were purchased from the telephone companies and lists of working banks were extracted. Each bank was assigned to a stratum within its province.

A special situation existed in Ontario and Quebec because some small areas are serviced by independent telephone companies rather than by Bell Canada. The area code prefixes for these areas were identified by matching the Bell file with a file of all area codes and prefixes. Area code prefixes from Ontario and Quebec and not on the Bell file were identified. All banks within these area code prefixes were generated and added to the sampling frame. Use of the Waksberg method was not possible for these areas since it requires that an accurate population estimate be available for the survey area. Such an estimate was not available for the parts of Ontario and Quebec not covered by Bell.

A similar situation also existed for all of Prince Edward Island for the first eight months of the survey. During this period the Waksberg method would have provided a more efficient generation of household telephone numbers. However, the Waksberg method would not have been as statistically efficient (due to clustering) and also would have introduced operational complexities. In September, telephone files from the phone company servicing Prince Edward Island became available. The non-working banks were then eliminated from the frame. A random sample of telephone numbers was generated in each survey month for each stratum (from the working banks). An attempt was made to generate the entire sample of telephone numbers on the first day of interviewing. Therefore, a prediction of the percentage of numbers dialed that would reach a household had to be made (this is known as the "hit rate"). The hit rate for January, the first survey month, was estimated using information from previous RDD surveys. Hit rates for subsequent months were revised as required based on January's experience.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: The third week of January 1991 to the second week of December 1991

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

Two questionnaires were used to conduct the interviews: the Selection Control Forms GSS 6-1 and GSS 6-1B, and the main questionnaire, the GSS 6-2. Respondents were interviewed in the
official language of their choice. The French and English versions of the main questionnaire were identical with the exception of question Q16 "What language did you first speak in childhood?". Respondents were not asked if they still understood
the language in which they were being interviewed. Interviews by proxy were allowed for language and health reasons. Questionnaires and procedures were field tested in August, 1990 in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto.

Data collection began the third week of January 1991 and continued through the second week of December 1991. The sample was evenly distributed over the 12 months. All interviewing took
place using centralized telephone facilities in five of
Statistics Canada's regional offices with calls being made from approximately 9 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday inclusive. The five regional offices were: Halifax, Montreal, Sturgeon Falls, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Interviewers were
trained by Statistics Canada staff in telephone interviewing techniques, survey concepts and procedures in a two day classroom training session. The majority of interviewers had previous telephone interviewing experience.

Focus content of Cycle 6 was: flu vaccinations and emotional health measures sponsored by various divisions of Health and Welfare Canada and a health state classification system sponsored internally by the Analytical Studies Branch of Statistics Canada.

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s) .

Error detection

All survey records were subjected to an exhaustive computer edit to identify and correct invalid or inconsistent information on the questionnaires. For the first time, a batch edit system was implemented for use in the Regional Offices. The system mainly edited the 6-2 for possible flow errors, values out of range and missing values. Edits on the 6-1 and 6-1B were limited to a few edits for the respondent's age and sex. In the event the interviewer was unable to correctly resolve the detected errors, it was possible for the interviewer to bypass the edit and forward the data to head office for resolution.

Head office edits performed the same checks as the batch edit system as well as more detailed edits. Records with missing or incorrect information were assigned non-response codes or corrected from other information from the respondent's questionnaire. In most cases editing was 'bottom-up', meaning that specific related information following a question with a branching pattern was employed to ensure the branching was correct. For example, question D3 "Did you have a flu shot during the fall or winter of 1990-1991?" was edited in relation to question D4 "Why did you not have a flu shot?" Correlation edits were also conducted, for example, question J7 of the Health Questionnaire was " what age did you last stop smoking daily?". This question was edited in relation to the respondent's age as derived from question Q13 "What is your date of birth?" These
edits ensured that the information was consistent and complete among questions.


Statistics from the General Social Survey (GSS) databases are estimates based on data collected from a small fraction of the population (roughly one person in 2,000) and are subject to error. The error can be divided into two components: sampling error and non-sampling error.

Since the survey is cross-sectional, caution is required in making causal inferences about the association between variables. Observed associations may be a reflection of differences between cohorts, period effects, differences between age groups or a combination of these factors.

In a similar way, to the extent that the non-responding households and persons differ from the rest of the sample, the estimates will be biased. The overall response rate for the GSS was approximately 80%. Non-response could occur at several stages in this survey. There were two stages of information collection: at the household level and at the individual level. Non-response at the household level averaged 6%. Non-response also occurs at the level of individual questions. For most questions, the response rate was high and, in tables, the non-responses generally appear under the heading "not stated".

While refusal to answer specific questions was very low, accuracy of recall and ability to answer some questions completely can be expected to affect some of the results presented in the subsequent chapters. Awareness of exact question wording will help the reader interpret the survey results.

Sampling error is the difference between the estimate derived from a sample and the result that would have been obtained from a population census using the same data collection procedures. For a sample survey such as the GSS, this error is estimated from the survey data. The measurement of error used is the standard deviation of the estimate. When a sampling error is more than 33 1/3% of the estimate itself, it is considered to be too unreliable to be published. In such a case, the symbol " -- " appears in statistical tables in place of the estimate. When the sampling error is between 16 2/3% and 33 1/3%, the corresponding estimate is accompanied by the symbol "*" in a table. Such estimates should be used with caution. Finally, all estimates with a sampling error of less than 16 2/3% can be used without restriction.

Weighting procedures are complex - see Statistics Canada publication 11-612 No. 1, or public use microdata file documentation.

Quality evaluation

Because of the large variety of estimates that can be produced from a survey, the standard deviation is usually expressed relative to the estimate to which it pertains. The resulting measure, known as the coefficient of variation (c.v.) of an estimate is obtained by dividing the standard error of the estimate by the estimate itself and is expressed as a percentage of the estimate.Before releasing and/or publishing any estimates from the microdata file, users should consider whether or not to release the estimate based on the following guidelines:

1.Unqualified (c.v. 0.0 to 16.5%) - Estimates can be considered for general unrestricted release. No special notation is required.

2. Qualified (16.6 to 33.3%) - Estimates can be considered for general unrestricted release but should be accompanied by a warning cautioning users of the high sampling variability associated with the estimates.

3. Not for release (c.v. 33.4% or over) - Estimates should generally not be released, but when they are it should be with great caution and the very high sampling variability associated with the estimate should be prominently noted.

Note: The sampling variability policy should be applied to rounded estimates.

Users should determine the number of records on the microdata file which contribute to the calculation of a given estimate. This number should be 15 or more. When the number of
contributors to the weighted estimate is less than this, the weighted estimate should not be released regardless of the value of the Approximate Coefficient of Variation.

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects which could identify any person, business, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.


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