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Is the Consumer Expenditure Survey representative by income?

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  • John Sabelhaus
  • David Johnson
  • Stephen Ash
  • Thesia Garner
  • John S. Greenlees
  • Steven W. Henderson
  • David Swanson

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

  • John Sabelhaus & David Johnson & Stephen Ash & Thesia Garner & John S. Greenlees & Steven W. Henderson & David Swanson, 2012. "Is the Consumer Expenditure Survey representative by income?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2012-36, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2012-36
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Richard Burkhauser & Shuaizhang Feng & Stephen Jenkins & Jeff Larrimore, 2009. "Recent Trends in Top Income Shares in the USA: Reconciling Estimates from March CPS and IRS Tax Return Data," Working Papers 09-26, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    2. Martin Browning & Thomas Crossley, 2009. "Are Two Cheap, Noisy Measures Better Than One Expensive, Accurate One?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 99-103, May.
    3. Thomas F. Crossley, 2009. "Measuring Consumption and Saving: Introduction," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 30(Special I), pages 303-307, December.
    4. Orazio Attanasio & Gabriella Berloffa & Richard Blundell & Ian Preston, 2002. "From Earnings Inequality to Consumption Inequality," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages 52-59, March.
    5. Jonathan Heathcote & Fabrizio Perri & Giovanni L. Violante, 2010. "Unequal We Stand: An Empirical Analysis of Economic Inequality in the United States: 1967-2006," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 13(1), pages 15-51, January.
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