IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Survey Response Variation in the Current Population Survey

Listed author(s):
  • James M. Poterba
  • Lawrence H. Summers

This paper investigates the problem of responseand coding errors in the Current Population Survey. It draws upon a potentially rich source o finformation for verifying survey answers, a three month matched sample of CPS respondents, to analyze whether individuals' questionnaire responses inadjacent months are mutually consistent.We focus primarily on reported durations of unemployment spells.For individuals who were coded as unemployed in two consecutive months and who experienced no intervening labor market withdrawal or employment,their reported duration in the second interview should exceed the first interview duration by about four weeks. However, this is not what survey responses show. In more than three quarters of all cases, reported durations in successive months are logically inconsistent. The reporting problemis not confined to spell durations. In 25 percent of all cases,the professed reason for unemployment changes as the unemployment spell progresses.Furthermore, analysis of labor force entrants shows that reported changes in labor force status between unemployment and not-in-the labor force are not reliable guides to actual behavior.We conclude that reported durations of unemployment, and to a lesser extent, reasons for unemployment, may be very misleading indicators of future behavior. Econometric analyses which focus on changes in individual behavior over time are likely to be badly flawed by spurious changes due to reporting errors. These problems with the Current Population Survey, one of the best sample surveys available, may suggest far greater difficulties in interpreting other sources of panel data.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 1109.

in new window

Date of creation: Apr 1983
Publication status: published as Poterba, James M. and Lawrence H. Summers. "Response variation in the CPS:caveats for the unemployment analyst." Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 107, No . 3, (March 1984), pp. 37-43.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1109
Note: LS
Contact details of provider: Postal:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.

Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

in new window

  1. Flinn, Christopher J & Heckman, James J, 1983. "Are Unemployment and Out of the Labor Force Behaviorally Distinct Labor Force States?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 28-42, January.
  2. Kim B. Clark & Lawrence H. Summers, 1979. "Labor Market Dynamics and Unemployemnt: A Reconsideration," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 10(1), pages 13-72.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1109. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.