Inaccurate age and sex data in the Census PUMS files: Evidence and Implications

J. Trent Alexander, Michael Davern, Betsey Stevenson

NBER Working Paper No. 15703
Issued in January 2010
NBER Program(s):Aging, Labor Studies, Technical Working Papers

We discover and document errors in public use microdata samples ("PUMS files") of the 2000 Census, the 2003-2006 American Community Survey, and the 2004-2009 Current Population Survey. For women and men ages 65 and older, age- and sex-specific population estimates generated from the PUMS files differ by as much as 15% from counts in published data tables. Moreover, an analysis of labor force participation and marriage rates suggests the PUMS samples are not representative of the population at individual ages for those ages 65 and over. PUMS files substantially underestimate labor force participation of those near retirement ages and overestimate labor force participation rates of those at older ages. These problems were an unintentional by-product of the misapplication of a newer generation of disclosure avoidance procedures carried out on the data. The resulting errors in the public use data could significantly impact studies of people ages 65 and older, particularly analyses of variables that are expected to change by age.

download in pdf format
   (219 K)

email paper

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15703

Published: J. Trent Alexander, Michael Davern, and Betsey Stevenson The Polls–Review: Inaccurate Age and Sex Data in the Census Pums Files: Evidence and Implications

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Lusardi and de Bassa Scheresberg w18969 Financial Literacy and High-Cost Borrowing in the United States
Hanushek and Woessmann w12832 The Role of School Improvement in Economic Development
Fryer w16850 Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools
Fryer w22399 An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force
Heckman and Kautz w18121 Hard Evidence on Soft Skills
NBER Videos

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

Contact Us