Office of Epidemiology and Research, Division of Research

Advancing Applied MCH Research

Integrating Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Longitudinal Measurement and Analysis

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Project Number: R40 MC 04293-03
Grantee: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department/Center: Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute
Project Date: 01/01/2005

Final Report

Integrating Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Longitudinal Measurement and Analysis Final Report (PDF) Exit Disclaimer

Principal Investigator

Margaret Burchinal, PhD
Senior Scientist
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Sheryl Mar, CB #8185, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC  27599-8185
Phone: (919) 966-5059


  • Perinatal/Infancy (0-12 months)
  • Toddlerhood (13-35 months)
  • Early Childhood (3-5 years)


  • African American


Understanding the complex factors that influence maternal and child health and development requires a matching complexity and integration of methods at multiple levels. Advances in both quantitative and qualitative methods have enhanced our ability to measure developmental outcomes, describe patterns of change, and identify factors associated with change. However, the integration of both approaches in applied research has lagged behind their use individually. The methods provide complementary information, and, indeed, the weaknesses of one method can be offset by the strengths of the other. To oversimplify, qualitative data can provide in-depth information about developmental processes and their contexts, but usually include observations of only a small number of individuals so generalizability of findings is suspect. Quantitative data can describe developmental trajectories and identify correlates of change in a manner that facilitates generalizabllity, but is less useful for describing process or the meanings that underlie health behaviors and attitudes. Integration of these methods should provide greater breadth and depth of understanding. However, there are many barriers to integrating methods at all levels (sampling, measurement development and/or selection, data collection, data analysis and interpretation), and few successful examples exist. This study will demonstrate the feasibility and utility of integrated analyses by extending the data collection and analysis in three large, recently funded, longitudinal studies of child development during the first five years of life. The investigators propose data collection and analysis that is not included in these ongoing projects and is not covered by current funding. The investigators plan to integrate methods to optimize the appropriateness and cultural sensitivity of parenting and child outcome instruments by using traditional psychometric analyses, item response theory analyses using differential item function, and semi-structured interviews. Further, the investigators will examine two research questions relating parenting beliefs and practices to child safety practices and to the development of self-regulation. Information about developmental processes collected in qualitative data through cultural models analysis and structural discovery approaches will be combined with information about developmental trajectories collected in the quantitative data through growth curve and latent profile analyses. The three projects involve longitudinal assessments of low and middle-income children in rural and urban settings, and include children from diverse ethnic backgrounds. One includes children with a specific genetic disorder, fragile X syndrome. This proposed study extends those projects by providing additional methodological time and expertise to integrate methods within both measurement and analysis phases within and across projects, and to conduct an ethnographic study of the process of integrating methods across the three projects to identify characteristics of research designs and teams that facilitate integration.


Listed is descending order by year published.

Burchinal M, Skinner D, Reznick JS. European American and African American mothers' beliefs about parenting and disciplining infants: a mixed-method analysis. Parenting Sci Pract. 2010 Apr;10(2):79-96.

Michie M, Skinner D. Narrating disability, narrating religious practice: reconciliation and fragile X syndrome. Intellect Dev Disabil. 2010 Apr;48(2),99-111.

Renn J, Terry JM. Operationalizing style: quantifying the use of style shift in the speech of African American adolescents. Am Speech. 2009 Winter;84(4):367-90.

Burchinal MR, Vernon-Feagans L, Cox M. Cumulative social risk and infant development in rural low-income communities. Parenting Sci Practice. 2008 Jan;8(1):41-82.

Flower KB, Willoughby M, Cadigan J, Perrin EM, Randolph G. Understanding breastfeeding initiation and continuation in rural communities: a combined qualitative/quantitative approach. Matern Child Health J. 2008 May;12(3):402-14. Epub 2007 Jul 18.

Skinner D, Burchinal M. Interdisciplinary research. In: Givens L, ed. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage; 2008.

Wheeler AC, Skinner DG, Bailey DB. Perceived quality of life in mothers of children with fragile X syndrome. Am J Ment Retard. 2008 May;113(3):159-77.

Willoughby MT, Cardigan RJ, Burchinal M, Skinner D. An evaluation of the psychometric properties of and criterion validity of the Religious Social Support Scale. J Sci Study Relig. 2008 Mar 12;47(1):147-159.

Zolotor AJ, Burchinal M, Skinner D, Rosenthal M; Key Family Life Project Investigators. Maternal psychological adjustment and knowledge of infant development as predictors of home safety practices in rural low-income communities. Pediatrics. 2008 Jun;121(6):e1668-75.

Brady N, Skinner D, Roberts J, Hennon E. Communication in young children with fragile X syndrome: a qualitative study of mothers' perspectives. Am J Speech Lang Pathol. 2006 Nov;15(4):353-64.


Developmental Disabilities

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