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Dealing with Incomplete Household Panel Data in Inequality Research

  • Joachim R. Frick
  • Markus M. Grabka
  • Olaf Groh-Samberg

Population surveys around the world face the problem of declining cooperation and participation rates of respondents. Not only can item nonresponse and unit nonresponse impair important outcome measures for inequality research such as total household disposable income; there is also a further case of missingness confronting household panel surveys that potentially biases results. The approach commonly used in such surveys of interviewing all adult household members and aggregating their individual incomes to yield a final outcome measure for welfare analyses often suffers from partial unit non-response (PUNR), i.e., the non-response of at least one unit, or member, of an otherwise participating household. In these cases, the aggregate income of all household members lacks at least one individual's income. These processes are typically not random and require appropriate correction. Using data from more than twenty waves of the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) we evaluate four different strategies to deal with this phenomenon: (a) Ignorance, i.e., assuming the missing individual's income to be zero. (b) Adjustment of the equivalence scale to account for differences in household size and composition. (c) Elimination of all households observed to suffer PUNR, and re-weighting of households observed to be at risk of but not affected by PUNR. (d) Longitudinal imputation of the missing income components. The aim of this paper is to show how the choice of technique affects substantive results in the inequality research. We find indications of substantial bias on income inequality and poverty as well as on income mobility. These findings are obviously even more important in cross-national comparative analyses if the data providers in the individual countries deal differently with PUNR in the underlying data.

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Paper provided by DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in its series SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research with number 290.

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Length: 32 p.
Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwsop:diw_sp290
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  1. Frick, Joachim R. & Grabka, Markus M., 2007. "Item Non-Response and Imputation of Annual Labor Income in Panel Surveys from a Cross-National Perspective," IZA Discussion Papers 3043, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Joachim R. Frick & Markus M. Grabka, 2003. "Imputed Rent and Income Inequality: A Decomposition Analysis for Great Britain, West Germany and the U.S," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 49(4), pages 513-537, December.
  3. Gert G. Wagner & Joachim R. Frick & Jürgen Schupp, 2007. "The German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP) – Scope, Evolution and Enhancements," Schmollers Jahrbuch : Journal of Applied Social Science Studies / Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, vol. 127(1), pages 139-169.
  4. Daniel H. Hill & Robert J. Willis, 2001. "Reducing Panel Attrition: A Search for Effective Policy Instruments," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 36(3), pages 416-438.
  5. Jens Bonke & Hans Uldall-Poulsen, 2007. "Why do families actually pool their income? Evidence from Denmark," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 5(2), pages 113-128, June.
  6. Laurie, Heather & Lynn, Peter, 2008. "The use of respondent incentives on longitudinal surveys," ISER Working Paper Series 2008-42, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
  7. Shorrocks, Anthony, 1978. "Income inequality and income mobility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 376-393, December.
  8. Cheti Nicoletti & Franco Peracchi, 2006. "The effects of income imputation on microanalyses: evidence from the European Community Household Panel," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 169(3), pages 625-646.
  9. Arie Kapteyn & Pierre-Carl Michaud & James P. Smith & Arthur van Soest, 2006. "Effects of Attrition and Non-Response in the Health and Retirement Study," Working Papers 407, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  10. Markus M. Grabka & Joachim R. Frick, 2008. "The Shrinking German Middle Class: Signs of Long-Term Polarization in Disposable Income?," Weekly Report, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, vol. 4(4), pages 21-27.
  11. Fields, Gary S & Ok, Efe A, 1999. "Measuring Movement of Incomes," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 66(264), pages 455-71, November.
  12. Foster, James & Greer, Joel & Thorbecke, Erik, 1984. "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 761-66, May.
  13. Smeeding, Timothy M & Weinberg, Daniel H, 2001. "Toward a Uniform Definition of Household Income," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 47(1), pages 1-24, March.
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