General Social Survey - Social Support (GSS)

Detailed information for 1996 (Cycle 11)





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.

This survey collects data on social support.

Data release - January 16, 1998


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 first (1985) and sixth cycles (1991) of the GSS (see record number 3894) had health as their core content. With the introduction of the National Population Health Survey 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. Social support was not a new topic for the GSS; however this cycle expanded the concept extensively.

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.


  • Care and social support
  • Health and disability among seniors
  • Housing and living arrangements
  • Seniors
  • Work and retirement

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.

Instrument design

A pencil and paper pilot test was conducted in Montreal and Winnipeg in late September and October 1995 using abbreviated questionnaires to determine if inclusion rates were high enough to allow the focus of the survey to be long-term health or physical limitations. The questionnaires, the procedures and the CATI system were then field tested in Montreal and Winnipeg in late November and early December 1995.


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

The sample included a national over-sample of approximately 1,250 seniors aged 65 and over (sponsored by the Senior's Directorate of Health Canada) and 700 seniors over-sampled from the province of Quebec (sponsored by the Quebec Bureau of Statistics). These supplemental interviews were drawn from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) rotate-outs. In addition, approximately 25% of the regular sample was drawn from the LFS rotate-outs and was restricted to seniors aged 65 and over, thereby obtaining more reliable estimates from this group.
The sample population was selected using random digit dialing techniques (RDD). Data were collected by means of computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) using Computer-Assisted Survey Execution System software (CASES).
The data for this cycle were collected monthly from February 1996 to December 1996 inclusive. Collection took place in four regional offices (Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver).

The GSS used a stratified design with significant differences in sampling fractions between strata. Thus, some areas are over-represented in the sample (relative to their populations) while some other areas are relatively under-represented. This means that the unweighted sample is not representative of the target population.

The estimates derived from this survey are based on a sample of persons. Somewhat different figures might have been obtained if a complete census had been taken using the same questionnaire, interviewers, supervisors, processing methods, etc. as those actually used. The difference between the estimates obtained from the sample and the results from a complete count taken under similar conditions is called the sampling error of the estimate.

Derivation of sampling variabilities for each of the estimates which could be generated from the survey would be an extremely costly procedure, and for most users, an unnecessary one. Consequently, approximate measures of sampling variability, in the form of tables, have been developed.

Variance tables for estimates using WGHT_FNL are provided at the Canada and province levels, as well as for the Atlantic and Prairie Regions. Estimates of actual variance for specific variables may be purchased from Statistics Canada.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: February 1996 to December 1996

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

The focus content of Cycle 11 collected information on tobacco use and was sponsored by Health Canada.

Data for Cycle 11 were collected using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) using Computer-Assisted Survey Execution System software (CASES). With CATI, the survey questions appeared on a computer monitor. The interviewer asked the respondent the questions, and entered the responses into the computer as the interview progressed. Built-in edits resulted in fewer processing steps and better quality data. CATI methodology also eliminated the need for paper and pencil questionnaires. Although shown in the questionnaire found in the document "Cycle 11 Questionnaire Package", skips are built into CATI and do not appear on the screen. As a result, the forms in Appendix A and B of the questionnaire package were produced as reference documents only. In Cycle 11, the CATI system provided the interviewer with two main "components" which can be imagined to represent two paper questionnaires.

A GSS 11-1 control form was completed for each telephone number generated in the sample. When a private household was contacted, all household members were enumerated and basic demographic information (e.g., age and sex) was collected for everyone. A computer algorithm randomly selected an eligible household member to answer the questionnaire. For most cases, a household member was eligible if aged 15 or older, but for some cases, only household members aged 65 or over were eligible . If the person selected could not be interviewed due to health reasons, a proxy could be interviewed.

Data collection involved two possible questionnaires with respondents interviewed in the official language of their choice.The English and French versions of the main questionnairewere identical except for question J19 "What is the first language that you spoke as a child?" In effect, the question was not asked of respondents who were responding in that first language. Data collection began in February 1996 and continued through December 1996. All interviewing took place using centralized telephone facilities in four of Statistics Canada's regional offices with calls being made from approximately 09:00 until 21:00, Monday to Saturday inclusive. The four regional offices were: Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Interviewers were trained by Statistics Canada staff in telephone interviewing techniques using CATI, survey concepts and procedures in a four day classroom training session. The majority of interviewers had computer and telephone interviewing experience.

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

Error detection

All survey records were subjected to computer edits throughout the course of the interview. With CATI, built-in edits identified invalid or inconsistent information as the interview progressed. As a result, such problems could be immediately resolved with the respondent.

The system ensured that branchings were correct, that the values were valid, and that each question had a response. For Questionnaire 11-1, the only responses checked were the respondent's age and sex. For Questionnaire 11-2, the CATI system performed checks throughout the interview. In cases where the interviewer was unable to correct the errors detected by the system, he/she was allowed to skip the edit stage and leave the problem for Head Office to solve later.

The Head Office edit system performed the same kind of checks as the CATI system, as well as verifications of greater complexity. For example, where data were missing or incorrect, either non-response codes were assigned to the records or, in some cases, the data were imputed from other responses on the questionnaire. Where data for a particular question were inconsistent with previous responses, the information entered last was usually considered correct. For instance, if a filter question led to a number of mutually exclusive branches, and if there were data for more than one branch, then the answer to the filter question was considered correct, the data from the branch associated with that answer were retained and the remaining data were assigned the value "N/A". Non-responses were due to one of three possible causes: the question was not asked because the answer to a previous question led to a different branch; the question was not asked because the respondent refused to answer a preceding question; or the respondent refused to answer the question. In the first case, the question was considered N/A, and the corresponding codes ' 0, 97, 997, 9997 and so on ' were assigned. In the second case, since the respondent refused to answer the filter question, all subsequent questions left unanswered because of that refusal were also coded as refusals (code 9, 99, 999, ...). Refusal codes were also assigned in the third case, since the respondent refused to answer the question.

Non-response was not permitted for items required for weighting, such as age, sex and number of telephone lines. In the case of the age variable, the procedure used to select the respondent ensured that a response would be present. By contrast, values were imputed in the rare cases where the number of residential telephone lines (DVTEL) was missing. DVTEL was assigned a value of one (1) when the respondent failed to provide the information. Values for certain other variables were imputed on the basis of other respondent or household characteristics.

Errors that are not related to sampling may occur at almost every phase of a survey operation. Interviewers may misunderstand instructions, respondents may make errors in answering questions, the answers may be incorrectly entered into the CATI system and errors may be introduced in the processing and tabulation of the data. These are all examples of non-sampling errors.

Quality evaluation

The extent of non-response varies from partial non-response (failure to answer just one or some questions) to total non-response. Total non-response occurred because the interviewer was either unable to contact the respondent, a language problem prevented the interview from taking place, or the respondent refused to participate in the survey. Total non-response was handled by adjusting the weight of households who responded to the survey to compensate for those who did not respond.

In most cases, partial non-response to the survey occurred when the respondent did not understand or misinterpreted a question, refused to answer a question, or could not recall the requested information.

Users should determine the number of respondents on the microdata file which contribute to the calculation of a given estimate. When the number of contributors (i.e., respondents) to the weighted estimate is less then 15 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 that 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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