Experimental tests of survey responses to expenditure questions



Comerford DA, Delaney L & Harmon C (2009) Experimental tests of survey responses to expenditure questions. Fiscal Studies, 30 (3-4), pp. 419-433.

This paper tests for a number of survey effects in the elicitation of expenditure items. In particular, we examine the extent to which individuals use features of the expenditure question to construct their answers. We test whether respondents interpret question wording as researchers intend and examine the extent to which prompts, clarifications and seemingly arbitraryfeatures of survey design influence expenditure reports. We find that over one-quarter of respondents have difficulty distinguishing between 'you' and 'your household' when making expenditure reports; that respondents report higher pro-rata expenditure when asked to give responses on a weekly as opposed to annual timescale; that respondents give higher estimates when using a scale with a higher midpoint; and that respondents report higher aggregated expenditure when categories are presented in a disaggregated form. In summary, expenditure reports are constructed using convenient rules of thumb and available information, which will depend on the characteristics of the respondent, the expenditure domain and features of the survey question. It is crucial to further account for these features in ongoing surveys.

Expenditure surveys; Survey design; Data experiments; Sampling (Statistics); Social sciences Research; Data collections Methods

Fiscal Studies: Volume 30, Issue 3-4

Publication date31/12/2009
Publication date online10/12/2009
PublisherWiley-Blackwell for the Institute for Fiscal Studies

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Professor David Comerford

Professor David Comerford

Professor, Economics