Census Bureau: Couples Fudge Numbers When Wives Earn More Than Husbands

Published: Monday, July 23, 2018 - 8:34am
Updated: Monday, July 23, 2018 - 8:43am

A new analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that couples fudge their earnings when wives make more than their husbands — and economists say that matters.

The report compared what people report on Census Bureau surveys to employer records filed with the IRS. It concludes that when wives out-earn husbands, both spouses were likely to deflate the wife's earnings and inflate the husband's earnings.

In the cases where wives made more than husbands, the men exaggerated their earnings by 2.9 percentage points and women undercut their earnings by 1.5 percentage points.

Study co-author Misty Heggeness said accurate figures are critical to understanding economic well-being.

“Poverty, inequality, all of these different kinds of indicators that we measure are really important records that affect decisions that policymakers make, decisions that program managers make,” she said.

In nearly one in four different-sex marriages, the Census Bureau said women make more money than men. The study only captured the discrepancy, not the reasons why.

“The interesting piece about this research is that it’s really relatable,” Heggeness said. “So people have personal, anecdotal stories that either relate to or contradict our findings.”

She hopes future research will examine why the discrepancy exists. The report adds that accuracy can be improved by understanding how societal norms influence data collection and relying on alternative data sources rather than just self-reporting.

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