Paying Project Participants: Dilemmas in Research with Poor, Marginalized Populations

Lara Descartes, Marysol Asencio, Thomas O. Blank


This paper presents a case study about issues that can arise in research with marginalized populations. We use our experiences during a focus group conducted with low-income men to discuss how using monetary incentives can lead to ethical and methodological dilemmas, including participants’ misrepresentation of their demographic backgrounds to match study criteria. We address difficulties caused by the Institutional Review Board process’ inability to account for unanticipated circumstances during fieldwork. We note that any resolution of such dilemmas must prioritize responsible research practice and protecting participants. We also note the need for more research on the impact and ethics of monetary and other incentives in recruiting participants for studies such as ours that include populations from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The issues raised in this paper have implications for those considering research design, especially concerning incentives and screening questions.


Marginalized populations, recruitment, research design, research incentives, research participation

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Copyright (c) 2011 Lara Descartes, Marysol Asencio, Thomas O. Blank


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