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

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

Chapter in NBER book Improving the Measurement of Consumer Expenditures (2015), Christopher Carroll, Thomas Crossley, and John Sabelhaus, editors (p. 204 - 240)
Conference held December 2-3, 2011
Published in May 2015 by University of Chicago Press
© 2015 by the National Bureau of Economic Research
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.

This chapter is no longer available for free download, since the book has been published. To obtain a copy, you must buy the book.
Order from

This paper was revised on August 23, 2013

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.7208/chicago/9780226194714.003.0008

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
Users who downloaded this chapter also downloaded these:
Sabelhaus, Johnson, Ash, Swanson, Garner, Greenlees, and Henderson Is the Consumer Expenditure Survey Representative by Income?
Barrett, Levell, and Milligan A Comparison of Micro and Macro Expenditure Measures across Countries Using Differing Survey Methods
Passero, Garner, and McCully Understanding the Relationship: CE Survey and PCE
Attanasio, Hurst, and Pistaferri The Evolution of Income, Consumption, and Leisure Inequality in the United States, 1980–2010
Crossley and Winter Asking Households about Expenditures: What Have We Learned?
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us