DHS Methodology

Survey Instruments

A mix of survey tools are used to conduct DHS Surveys:

There are four Model Questionnaires in DHS-7 surveys: A Household Questionnaire, a Woman’s Questionnaire, a Man's Questionnaire, and a Biomarker Questionnaire. There are also several standardized Questionnaire Modules for countries with interest in those topics.

DHS surveys collect biomarker data relating to a wide range of conditions including infectious and sexually transmitted diseases, chronic illnesses such as diabetes, micronutrient deficiencies, and exposure to environmental toxins. Most surveys now include testing for HIV infection in their survey design.

Geographic Information
DHS surveys routinely collect geographic information in all surveyed countries. All survey data is presented both nationally and by sub-national reporting area. These reporting areas are often, but not always, provinces or groups of provinces, and are included in all recoded data files.

Sample Design

The sample is generally representative:

  • At the national level
  • At the residence level (urban-rural)
  • At the regional level (departments, states)

The sample is usually based on a stratified two-stage cluster design:

  • First stage: Enumeration Areas (EA) are generally drawn from Census files
  • Second stage: in each EA selected, a sample of households is drawn from an updated list of households

Data Tabulation Plan

The DHS Tabulation Plan complements the 2012 versions of the DHS Model Survey Questionnaires.  The DHS Tabulation Plan consists of over 175 tables contained in 15 substantive chapters. These chapters provide information on the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the population, levels of fertility and childhood mortality, family planning, women’s status, malaria, and orphanhood, to name some of the main topics. While the tables in the final survey report are not designed to provide complex analysis due to various constraints, it indicates areas where more detailed, complex analysis would be fruitful.

Main Topics in the DHS Tabulation Plan:

The Demographic and Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Population:
Information on this topic is provided in Chapters 1, 2, and 3. Chapter 1 is introductory and presents the background of the survey, its objectives, and a brief summary of the survey procedures, sample design and response rates.  Chapters 2 and 3 are intended to set the stage for the population and health chapters that follow. Chapter 2 describes the background characteristics of the household population, and their dwelling conditions. Chapter 3 contains tables describing eligible respondents and indicators of women’s status and their situation.

Marriage and Sexual Activity:
Chapter 4 includes information on marriage patterns, age at sexual debut, and recent sexual activity. 

Levels of Fertility and Fertility Trends:
The current and past fertility of the population are presented in Chapter 5. This chapter also includes fertility trends and the beginning of a woman's childbearing, with tabulations on age at first birth and current teenage fertility behavior.

Fertility Preferences:
Chapter 6 covers fertility preferences and documents respondents' ideal number of children, and wanted fertility rates.

Family Planning:
Chapter 7 reports data on family planning, including knowledge of contraception, source of supply, acceptability, use, attitudes toward contraception, unmet need, intention to use in the future, reasons for nonuse, informed choice, exposure to media messages about family planning, and a variety of related topics.

Infant and Child Mortality:
Information on the current and past levels of infant and child mortality as well as differentials in mortality due to demographic and background characteristics is presented in Chapter 8. This chapter also includes information on perinatal mortality and the extra risk incurred by certain reproductive behaviors.

Reproductive Health and General Women’s Health:

Chapter 9 covers reproductive health and women’s health in general. The chapter describes maternal care during pregnancy and delivery, and postnatal care, as well as general access to health services.

Child Health:
Child health consists of many aspects including birth weight and size, immunization and the extent and the prevalence and treatment of important childhood diseases (diarrhea, acute respiratory infection, and fever). This information is presented in Chapter 10.

Nutrition of Women and Children:
Chapter 11 covers nutritional concerns for children and for women including nutritional status, breastfeeding and complementary foods, food diversity, and micronutrients.

Information on malaria is reported in surveys where malaria-related questions have been asked in the household and individual questionnaires. Chapter 12 presents this information. This chapter describes the availability and use of mosquito nets by women and children and the prophylactic and treatment use of antimalarial drugs.

HIV/AIDS-related Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior, and HIV Prevalence:
Chapter 13 covers information on knowledge and behavior concerning HIV/AIDS and STIs and the use of condoms.  This chapter covers a number of HIV/AIDS important indicators for monitoring and evaluating HIV/AIDS prevention programs. These tables are based on multi-organization agreements and internationally accepted indicators and should only be modified where necessary to take into account insufficient numbers of cases for presenting results. In many DHS surveys, HIV testing is performed on eligible respondents (women and men of reproductive age) at the household level. Chapter 14 presents the results based on respondent’s who received the test.  The chapter reports the response rate of testing and presents the HIV prevalence rates.

Women’s Empowerment:
Chapter 15 shows information on indicators of women’s empowerment, develops three empowerment indices, and relates those indices to select demographic and health outcomes.

Survey Timeline

DHS Surveys are normally conducted over a period of 18–20 months. The following timeline represents a typical standard DHS Survey.

Timeline Topics
Month 1
Survey design visit
Month 2
Sample Design
Month 3
Questionnaire design
Month 3-4
Household listing
Month 5
Month 6
Revision of questionnaires and manuals
Month 7
Training of field personnel
Month 8
Data processing set up
Month 8-11
Month 9-12
Data entry and editing
Month 13
Preparation of the Key Indicators Report
Month 14-16
Tabulation, analysis and preparation of the Final Report
Month 17
First draft of the report
Month 18
Review and revision of report
Month 19
Printing of the final report
Month 20
National seminar
Month 20
Further analysis and/or data dissemination activities