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The Rich Underreport their Income: Assessing Bias in Inequality Estimates and Correction Methods using Linked Survey and Tax Data

Author

Listed:
  • Sean Higgins

    () (UC Berkeley)

  • Nora Lustig

    () (Tulane University)

  • Andrea Vigorito

    () (Instituto de Economía, FCEA, Universidad de la República (Uruguay))

Abstract

Do survey respondents misreport their income? If so, how does misreporting correlate with income, how does this affect estimates of income inequality, and how well do existing methods correct for bias? We use a novel database in which a subsample of Uruguay's official household survey has been linked to tax records to document the extent and distribution of labor income underreporting and to assess the performance of various existing methods to correct inequality estimates. Individuals in the upper half of the income distribution tend to report less labor income in household surveys than those same individuals earn according to tax returns, and underreporting is increasing in income. Using simulations, we find that this leads to downward-biased inequality estimates. Correction methods that rely only on survey data barely affect the biased inequality estimates, while methods that combine survey and tax data can lead to over-correction and overestimation of inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Sean Higgins & Nora Lustig & Andrea Vigorito, 2018. "The Rich Underreport their Income: Assessing Bias in Inequality Estimates and Correction Methods using Linked Survey and Tax Data," Working Papers 1808, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tul:wpaper:1808
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    File URL: http://repec.tulane.edu/RePEc/pdf/tul1808.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Angus Deaton, 2005. "Measuring Poverty in a Growing World (or Measuring Growth in a Poor World)," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(1), pages 1-19, February.
    2. Gabriel Burdín & Fernando Esponda & Andrea Vigorito, 2014. "Inequality and Top Income in Uruguay: A Comparison between Household Surveys and Income Tax Micro-data," Working Papers 201401, World Inequality Lab.
    3. Stephen P. Jenkins, 2017. "Pareto Models, Top Incomes and Recent Trends in UK Income Inequality," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 84(334), pages 261-289, April.
    4. Angus Deaton, 2005. "ERRATUM: Measuring Poverty in a Growing World (or Measuring Growth in a Poor World)," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 395-395, May.
    5. Cowell, Frank A. & Flachaire, Emmanuel, 2007. "Income distribution and inequality measurement: The problem of extreme values," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 141(2), pages 1044-1072, December.
    6. Alvaredo, Facundo, 2011. "A note on the relationship between top income shares and the Gini coefficient," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 110(3), pages 274-277, March.
    7. repec:eee:wdevel:v:95:y:2017:i:c:p:111-126 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015," NBER Working Papers 23368, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Thomas Piketty & Li Yang & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Appendix to "Capital Accumulation, Private Property and Rising Inequality in China, 1978-2015"," Working Papers 201707, World Inequality Lab.
    10. Frank A. Cowell & Emmanuel Flachaire, 2007. "Income distribution and inequality measurement: The problem of extreme values," Post-Print halshs-00176029, HAL.
    11. Gabriel Burdín & Fernando Esponda & Andrea Vigorito, 2014. "Inequality and top incomes in Uruguay: a comparison between household surveys and income tax micro-data," Commitment to Equity (CEQ) Working Paper Series 1321, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
    12. Anand, Sudhir & Segal, Paul, 2017. "Who Are the Global Top 1%?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 111-126.
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    Cited by:

    1. Arthur Charpentier & Emmanuel Flachaire, 2019. "Pareto Models for Top Incomes," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) hal-02145024, HAL.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    inequality; income underreporting; tax records; household surveys;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • C81 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Methodology for Collecting, Estimating, and Organizing Microeconomic Data; Data Access

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