Understanding household finance through better measurement
Data and documentation
The design and implementation of the Spending Studies is documented here. The data will be available from the UK Data Service in due course.
- Jäckle, Burton, Wenz, and Read (2018) Understanding Society The UK Household Longitudinal Study: Spending Study 1 User Guide, Colchester: University of Essex.
- Spending Study 1 User Guide – Appendix C: App Screenshots
- Spending Study 2 User Guide – Appendix A: App and Online Diary Screenshots
Here are links to the most recent versions of working papers, as well as slides and posters presented at various conferences:
Listen to the podcast of Professor Annette Jäckle talking about the opportunities and challenges that mobile technology brings researchers involved in the collection and use of household survey data.
Which features of smartphones and tablets would respondents be willing to use for data collection in a survey? How is willingness to participate in mobile data collection changing over time?
- Wenz, Jäckle and Couper (2017) “Willingness to use mobile technologies for data collection in a probability household panel”, Understanding Society Working Paper 2017-10. Revised version in press at Survey Research Methods.
- Jäckle, Wenz and Couper (2018) “Data collection using mobile technologies: Changes over time in the barriers to participation”, presented at the BigSurv18 conference, Barcelona.
Can we measure household spending with an app that respondents use to scan their shopping receipts or enter their purchases?
- Jäckle, Burton, Couper and Lessof (2017) “Participation in a Mobile App survey to collect expenditure data as part of a large-scale probability household panel: response rates and response biases”, Understanding Society Working Paper 2017-09. Revised version in press at Survey Research Methods.
- Lessof, Jäckle and Couper (2018) “Can we use an app on a smartphone or tablet to collect detailed expenditure data?”, presented at the Research Methods Festival, Bath.
- Read (2018) “Respondent burden in a mobile app: evidence from a shopping receipt scanning study”, Understanding Society Working Paper 2018-04.
- Read (2019) “The influence of device characteristics on data collection using a mobile app”, Understanding Society Working Paper 2019-01.
- Wenz, Jäckle, Crossley, Couper, Burton and Winter (2018) “Quality of expenditure data collected with a receipt scanning app in a probability household panel”, presented at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington DC.
How do people think about their household finances?
- Chisholm, Hasbrouck, Coulter, Jäckle, Burton, Crossley, Fisher, Winter (2017) “Understanding how people conceptualise household finances”. Understanding Society Working Paper 2017-12.
- Suffield, Hasbrouck, Coulter, Jäckle, Burton, Crossley, Couper and Lessof (2018) “Understanding how people think about their daily spending”, Understanding Society Working Paper 2018-02.
Can we collect data on the whole household budget constraint? Do summary screens and edit checks asking respondents to correct their budget balance improve reporting of household finances?
- Brewer, Burton, Crossley, Fisher, Gaia, Jäckle and Winter (2018) “Another look at whether the rich save more: evidence from a survey experiment”, presented at the International Association for Research on Income and Wealth conference, Copenhagen.
- Crossley (2017) “Measuring income, spending and assets and debts in households surveys”, presented at the 61st World Statistics Congress, Marrakech.
- Crossley, Fisher and Gaia (2018) “Can summary screens improve income reporting in surveys?”, presented at the Research Methods Festival, Bath
- Hanson, T., Westwood, P., Burton, J., and Fisher, P. (2017) “Improving household finances data with joint interviewing and a balance edit: cognitive testing of a ‘Benefit Unit Finance’ module”. Understanding Society Working Paper 2017-14, Colchester: University of Essex.
How does measurement error in income change across waves in a panel study?
- Fisher (2017) “Does repeated measurement improve income data quality?” ISER Working Paper 2016-11, Colchester: University of Essex. Revised version in press at Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics.
How can the methods for imputing consumption from two surveys containing partial information about household finances be improved?
- Crossley, Levell and Poupakis (2017) “Regression with imputed dependent variables”, presented at the European Survey Research Association conference, Lisbon.
To date, there are no surveys in the UK (or other developed countries) that measure income, expenditure, assets and debts for the same households. These data limitations constrain our understanding of the dynamics of living standards. For example, expenditure surveys in the UK and other countries suggest that households with the lowest incomes spend as much as households with much higher incomes. It is however not known whether this pattern is the result of measurement error in expenditure or income or whether it reflects genuine borrowing or dissaving. Having data about the assets and debts of a household over time, in addition to income and expenditure, would enable analysts to resolve this puzzle.
Understanding the spending, saving and borrowing of households is critical for assessing the sustainability of economic growth, including whether the current recovery is fuelled by unsustainable consumer spending. There are other similar unresolved puzzles. For example, in survey data richer households save larger proportions of their income, however aggregate savings rates have not increased over time as real incomes have increased. This discrepancy could again be due to measurement error or reflect true behaviours. A better understanding of household finances will allow a clearer picture of which households are disadvantaged, and how advantage and disadvantage cumulate across time and generations.
The ultimate aim of this project is to transform our understanding of the dynamics of living standards. Our specific aims are
To measure the full accounting identity for individual households: net income minus expenditure equals change in financial position, thereby producing a step change in the scope and quality of the evidence base used for academic and policy research on household finances.
To transform the methods of collecting data about household finances, by developing innovations in survey measurement and testing new technologies already used in commercial market research that could augment survey data.
To disseminate these methodological developments widely and thereby change data available for the study of household finances both in the UK and around the world.
To use the new data to investigate policy relevant issues that to date are unresolved due to limitations of existing data.
Examples include whether income or expenditure data provide better indicators of living standards, and whether richer households save larger proportions of their income such that consumption based taxes are regressive and inequalities are compounded across generations.
The reason why no existing survey collects data about all aspects of a household’s finances is because it would take a very long questionnaire. This would be costly to conduct and burdensome for respondents. Through interdisciplinary collaboration between topic experts, survey methodologists and experts in commercial market research, we aim to develop methods of data collection that reduce costs and respondent burden, while maintaining or improving the quality of each data component.
We will explore the feasibility, data quality and costs of different potential technologies, including technologies that would reduce respondent burden by capturing data passively. For example, barcode scanners to collect detailed expenditure data, coding of till receipts, linking to store card data, or asking survey respondents to sign up to a “financial aggregator” service and relaying the data to us. To help respondents provide more accurate reports in the web survey we will also assess the potential for in-the-moment surveys triggered at salient dates such as the deadline for self-assessment tax returns or tax credit renewals, when sub-groups of respondents will have better knowledge of their income, and the potential for using elements of ‘gamification’ to increase respondent engagement with the survey and reduce burden. We will assess the quality of data obtained with different methods by examining the balance of the household accounting identity and the quality of individual components. To inform the development work and methodological tests we will carry out experiments in an existing survey (the Understanding Society Innovation Panel) to test methods aimed at reducing under-reporting of income. In addition, we will carry out secondary analyses using existing data sources.
We will apply the data generated to understanding current puzzles in household finances, and make the data available to other researchers in this area.
Professor of Survey Methodology - ISER, University of Essex
Professor of Economics - University of Essex
Professor of Economics, Director of MiSoC - ISER, University of Essex
Associate Director, Surveys - ISER, University of Essex
Senior Research Officer - ISER, University of Essex
Ms Carli Lessof
PhD student - National Centre for Research Methods and Research Associate, Kantar Worldpanel
Assistant Professor of Economics - Yale University
Cormac O'Dea is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Yale University. His current work focuses on household saving behaviour, retirement decisions and the distributional impact of spending on public services.
Research Professor, Survey Research Centre - University of Michigan
Professor Couper is a leading survey methodologist and at the forefront of research into survey data collection using online and mobile technologies.
Empirical Research in Economics - University of Munich
Professor Winter's research focuses on the empirical analysis of household saving behaviour, pension plan choice and insurance decisions, and health economics. He also has active research interests in survey design and response behaviours.
Research Fellow - City University
Senior Research Officer - ISER, University of Essex
PhD student in Survey Methodology - ISER, University of Essex
Post-doctoral Research Associate - UCL
Senior Research Economist - Institute for Fiscal Studies
Commercial project partners:
TNS BMRB, European Central Bank Household Finance and Consumption Network, Kantar Worldpanel, Lightspeed GMI