NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Validity of Consumption Data: Are the Consumer Expenditure Interview and Diary Surveys Informative?

Adam Bee, Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan


This chapter is a preliminary draft unless otherwise noted. It may not have been subjected to the formal review process of the NBER. This page will be updated as the chapter is revised.

Chapter in forthcoming NBER book Improving the Measurement of Consumer Expenditures, Christopher Carroll, Thomas Crossley, and John Sabelhaus, editors
Conference held December 2-3, 2011
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press
in NBER Book Series Studies in Income and Wealth

We examine the quality of data in the Consumer Expenditure (CE) Survey. We compare reported spending on goods and services to comparable national income account data separately for the two components of the CE--the Interview Survey and the Diary Survey--rather than a combination as in past comparisons. We find that most of the largest consumption categories are measured well in the Interview Survey. Other large categories are reported at a low rate or their ratio to the national accounts declines over time. For the Diary Survey, there is no large category that is both measured well and reported at a higher rate than in the Interview Survey. We also compare durables in the CE to other sources. This evidence suggests the CE performs fairly well and appears to be fairly representative, although there is evidence of underrepresentation at the top of the income distribution and under-reporting of income and expenditures at the top. We then examine the precision of the two surveys and the frequency of no spending. In the Diary Survey, we find much greater dispersion in spending, and the dispersion relative to the Interview Survey varies across goods and over time.

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This paper was revised on August 23, 2013

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w18308, The Validity of Consumption Data: Are the Consumer Expenditure Interview and Diary Surveys Informative?, Adam Bee, Bruce D. Meyer, James X. Sullivan
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