Understanding Household Finance Through Better Measurement with University of Essex (2016-2017)

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Funded by University of Essex.

Funding Years: 2016-2017

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.

PI: Mick Couper