General Social Survey - Social Support and Aging (GSS)

Detailed information for 2002 (Cycle 16)




Every 5 years

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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 and aging.

Data release - September 2, 2003


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 #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 Cycle 11 (1996) expanded the concept extensively.

Starting with Cycle 16 (2002), this survey collects data on social support and aging.

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
  • Older adults and population aging (formerly Seniors)
  • Work and retirement

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The target population is all persons aged 45 and over in private households in the ten provinces with regular telephone service.

Instrument design

The questionnaire was designed based on qualitative testing (focus groups), a pilot test and interviewer debriefing.


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

The target population for Cycle 16 of the GSS is all persons aged 45 and over as of December 31, 2001, in private households in the ten provinces.

Data for Cycle 16 of the GSS were collected from February to December 2002. The sample was selected from people who responded to the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), which collected data in 2001.

In order to carry out sampling for the CCHS, each of the ten provinces was divided into strata and separate samples were selected from each stratum. These strata were defined geographically.

The provincial boundaries were used as the first level of stratum boundary. Within each province, provincially defined health regions formed the strata. There were 133 strata in total. Separate samples for the populations 45-54. 55-64, 65-74, and 75 and older were selected using an allocation to the CCHS strata that would improve the precision of GSS estimates.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: February 2002 to December 2002

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

Cycle 16 collected data on care provided to seniors, care received by seniors, transitions to retirement, retirement experience, social contact, housing and transportation using computer assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). Unlike previous GSS cycles, where households were selected through Random Digit Dialling methods, in this cycle the individuals to be interviewed were identified in advance. Thus the collection procedures included those needed to trace people when they could no longer be reached at their old telephone number. When the person to be interviewed was contacted, they were interviewed in the official language of their choice. Interviews by proxy were not allowed. The overall response rate during collection for Cycle 16 was 83.8%.

All interviewing took place using centralized telephone facilities in four of Statistics Canada's regional offices, with calls being made from approximately 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday inclusive. The four regional offices were: Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Statistics Canada staff trained interviewers in survey concepts and procedures as well as telephone interviewing techniques using CATI. The majority of interviewers had previous experience interviewing for the GSS.

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

Error detection

Error detection was done through edits programmed into the CATI system.

The CATI data capture program allowed a valid range of codes for each question and built-in edits, and automatically followed the flow of the questionnaire.

All survey records were subjected to computer edits throughout the course of the interview. The CATI system principally edited the flow of the questionnaire and identified out of range values. As a result, such problems could be immediately resolved with the respondent. If 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. All interviewer comments were reviewed and taken into account in head office editing.

Head office edits performed the same checks as the CATI system as well as more detailed edits.


The flow editing carried out by head office followed a 'top down' strategy, in that whether or not a given question was considered "on path" was based on the response codes to the previous questions. If the response codes to the previous questions indicated that the current question was "on path", the responses, if any, to the current question were retained, though "don't know" was recoded as 8 (98 or 998, etc.) and refusals were recoded as "Not Stated", i.e. 9 (99 or 999, etc.). If, however, a response was missing to the current question, it was coded as "Not Stated", i.e. 9 (99 or 999, etc.). If the response codes to the previous questions indicated that the current question was "off path" because the respondent was clearly identified as belonging to a sub-population for which the current question was inappropriate or not of interest, the current question was coded as "Not Applicable", i.e. 7 (97 or 997, etc.).

Due to the nature of the survey, imputation was not appropriate for most items so missing data were coded as 'Not Stated'.

However, non-response was not permitted for those items required for weighting. Values were imputed in the rare cases where either of the following was missing: sex or number of residential telephone.


When a probability sample is used, as was the case for the GSS, the principle behind estimation is that each person selected in the sample represents (in addition to himself/herself) several other persons not in the sample. For example, in a simple random sample of 2% of the population, each person in the sample represents 50 persons in the population (himself/herself and 49 others). The number of persons represented by a given respondent is usually known as the weight or weighting factor.

WGHT_PER: This is the basic weighting factor for analysis at the person level, i.e. to calculate estimates of the number of persons (non-institutionalized and aged 45 and older) having one or several given characteristics. WGHT_PER should be used for all estimates. For example, to estimate the number of persons who would describe their usual state of health as poor, compared to other people their age, the value of WGHT_PER is summed over all records with this characteristic (HS_Q110=5).

GSS Cycle 16 was a survey of individuals and the analysis file contains questionnaire responses and associated information from 24,870 respondents.

GSS Cycle 16 was not designed to be a survey of households, so questions such as "DOR_Q110: In what type of dwelling are you now living?" should be used to estimate the number of persons who live in a particular type of dwelling (rather than the number of dwellings of a given type). For example, to estimate the number of persons who live in low-rise apartments, WGHT_PER should be summed over all respondents with DOR_Q110=5.

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.

In order to prevent any data disclosure, confidentiality analysis is done using the Statistics Canada Generalized Disclosure Control System (G-Confid). G-Confid is used for primary suppression (direct disclosure) as well as for secondary suppression (residual disclosure). Direct disclosure occurs when the value in a tabulation cell is composed of or dominated by few enterprises while residual disclosure occurs when confidential information can be derived indirectly by piecing together information from different sources or data series.

Revisions and seasonal adjustment

This methodology does not apply to this survey.

Data accuracy

The target population for Cycle 16 of the GSS was all persons 45 years of age and over residing in Canada, excluding:
1. residents of Nunavut, the Yukon and Northwest Territories; and
2. full-time residents of institutions.

In 2002, respondents were randomly selected from a list of individuals aged 45 years and over who had responded to another Statistics Canada survey. In the GSS, all respondents were contacted and interviewed by telephone. Households without telephones were therefore excluded; however, persons living in such households represent less than 2% of the target population. Survey estimates have been adjusted (i.e. weighted) to account for persons without telephones.

Data for Cycle 16 of the GSS were collected monthly from February to December 2002. The sample was evenly distributed over the 11 months to represent seasonal variation in the information.

From the 28,837 potential respondents in the GSS Cycle 16 sample, 24,870 usable responses were obtained. This produced a response rate of almost 84%.

The figures which appear in this report are estimates based on data collected from a small fraction of the population (roughly one person in 448 of the population 45 years and over) and are subject to error. The error can be divided into two components: sampling and non-sampling error.


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