NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Household Surveys in Crisis

Bruce D. Meyer, Wallace K.C. Mok, James X. Sullivan

NBER Working Paper No. 21399
Issued in July 2015
NBER Program(s):   AG   CH   HC   HE   LS   PE

Household surveys, one of the main innovations in social science research of the last century, are threatened by declining accuracy due to reduced cooperation of respondents. While many indicators of survey quality have steadily declined in recent decades, the literature has largely emphasized rising nonresponse rates rather than other potentially more important dimensions to the problem. We divide the problem into rising rates of nonresponse, imputation, and measurement error, documenting the rise in each of these threats to survey quality over the past three decades. A fundamental problem in assessing biases due to these problems in surveys is the lack of a benchmark or measure of truth, leading us to focus on the accuracy of the reporting of government transfers. We provide evidence from aggregate measures of transfer reporting as well as linked microdata. We discuss the relative importance of misreporting of program receipt and conditional amounts of benefits received, as well as some of the conjectured reasons for declining cooperation and survey errors. We end by discussing ways to reduce the impact of the problem including the increased use of administrative data and the possibilities for combining administrative and survey data.

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Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21399

Published: Bruce D. Meyer & Wallace K. C. Mok & James X. Sullivan, 2015. "Household Surveys in Crisis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 199-226, Fall. citation courtesy of

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