The Effect of Unfolding Brackets on the Quality of Wealth Data in HRS

Published: 2006


A characteristic feature of survey data on household wealth is the high incidence of missing data—roughly one in three respondents who report owning an asset are unable or unwilling to provide an estimate of the exact amount of their holding. A partial solution to that problem is to devise a series of questions that put the respondent’s holdings into a quantitative range (less than x, more than x, or what?). These quantitative ranges are called unfolding brackets, and they represent a survey innovation that aims to improve the quality of wealth data by substituting range data for completely missing data. In this paper, we examine the effect of unfolding brackets on the quality of HRS wealth data. Special attention is given to the impact of unfolding bracket entry points on the distribution of asset holdings in HRS 1998. Although there is a small positive relationship between mean asset holdings and entry point, there are many cases where that relationship does not hold. In general, our conclusion is that entry point bias problems are not a major concern in the evaluation of quality in the 1998 HRS wealth data.

Key Findings