Is the Consumer Expenditure Survey Representative by Income?

33 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2013 Last revised: 10 Jan 2018

See all articles by John Sabelhaus

John Sabelhaus

Washington Center for Equitable Growth

David S. Johnson

Government of the United States of America - Bureau of the Census

Stephen Ash

Bureau of the Census

David Swanson

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Thesia I. Garner

Bureau of Labor Statistics

John Greenlees

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Steve Henderson

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: October 2013

Abstract

Aggregate under-reporting of household spending in the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) can result from two fundamental types of measurement errors: higher-income households (who presumably spend more than average) are under-represented in the CE estimation sample, or there is systematic under-reporting of spending by at least some CE survey respondents. Using a new data set linking CE units to zip-code level average Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), we show that the very highest-income households are less likely to respond to the survey when they are sampled, but unit non-response rates are not associated with income over most of the income distribution. Although increasing representation at the high end of the income distribution could in principle significantly raise aggregate CE spending, the low reported average propensity to spend for higher-income respondent households could account for at least as much of the aggregate shortfall in total spending.

Suggested Citation

Sabelhaus, John and Johnson, David S. and Ash, Stephen and Swanson, David and Garner, Thesia I. and Greenlees, John and Henderson, Steve, Is the Consumer Expenditure Survey Representative by Income? (October 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w19589, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2348460

John Sabelhaus (Contact Author)

Washington Center for Equitable Growth ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

David S. Johnson

Government of the United States of America - Bureau of the Census

Stephen Ash

Bureau of the Census ( email )

4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, DC 20233
United States

David Swanson

Bureau of Labor Statistics ( email )

2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20212
United States

Thesia I. Garner

Bureau of Labor Statistics ( email )

2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20212
United States

John Greenlees

Bureau of Labor Statistics ( email )

2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20212
United States

Steve Henderson

Bureau of Labor Statistics

2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20212
United States

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