Income and Assets

Income and Assets


To ensure respondent confidentiality, income variables exceeding particular limits were truncated each survey year so that values exceeding the upper limits were converted to a set maximum value. These upper limits varied by year, as did the set maximum values. From 1966 through 1980, upper limit amounts for both men's cohorts were set to maximum values of $50,000. For the 1981 surveys and 1983 Older Men interview, the maximum value was set to $50,001 so that researchers could distinguish between topcoded individuals and those reporting $50,000. In the 1990 Older Men survey income amounts exceeding $100,000 were converted to a set maximum value of $100,001.

Asset values were also topcoded. Beginning with the first surveys in 1966, asset variables exceeding upper limits were truncated to $999,999. Beginning in 1976, assets exceeding one million were converted to a set maximum value of $999,994. In 1981 the maximum was increased by three dollars to $999,997. For the 1990 Older Men survey, the Census Bureau topcoded selected asset items if it considered that release of the absolute value might aid in the identification of a respondent. This topcoding was conducted on a case-by-case basis, with the mean of the top three values substituted for each respondent who reported such amounts.


One major concern when asking individuals about their income and wealth is nonresponse bias. While it is outside the scope of this chapter to fully investigate nonresponse bias, this section briefly describes nonresponse in the 1981 survey of both cohorts as an example of the issues raised. There are two primary types of questions on income and assets (or debts): general questions asking whether the respondent received income from a particular source or owned a particular asset, and specific questions asking about the amount of income or the value of the asset. Factors that are likely to contribute to nonresponse are suspicion, uncertainty, shared responsibility for family finances, and complex financial arrangements. The 1981 survey is examined because it was the last year in which both men's cohorts were interviewed.

Tables 4 and 5 provide information on response rates to questions on income and wealth in the 1981 surveys. Respondents who refused to answer, who responded with "don't know," or who are invalid skips are all counted as nonresponses. Both cohorts had high response rates on the receipt and ownership questions--generally around 99 percent. The percentages in the amount column are based only on individuals who reported receiving that type of income or having that type of asset or debt. These amount questions show much lower response rates. For example, business and farm income drops by 20 percent for the Older Men and 13 percent for the Young Men.

Table 4. Response Rates to 1981 Older Men Income and Asset Questions

Income Category Receive Income from Source Amount1   Asset/Debt Category Own Asset/
Have Debt
Wages/salaries -- 95.9% Money assets 99.6% 74.2%
Business 99.5% 79.8% Securities 99.4% 69.1%
Interest/dividends 99.5% 69.8% Farm 99.7% 76.7%
Social Security 99.6% 84.5% Investment property 99.8% 88.3%
Retirement pensions:     Business 99.8% 71.2%
Private employer 99.5% 91.4% Vehicles 99.7% 91.4%
Military 99.3% 93.3% Primary residence 99.9% 90.7%
Federal Gov. 99.4% 92.4% Debts: Mortgage -- 95.1%
State Gov. 99.4% 79.7% Vehicle debt 99.4% 89.4%
Local Gov. 98.5% 85.5%      
Union 99.4% 86.6%      
Other pension 99.2% 78.3%      
Note: Table is based on R05054., R05059.-R05069., R05072-R05077., R05210.-R05214., R05217., R05218., R05223., R05236., R05237., R05244., R05245., R05268., R05269, R05283.-R05296., R05300., R05301., R05306., and R05307.
1 Universe is restricted to individuals who received income from the relevant source or had the relevant asset or debt.

 Table 5. Response Rates to 1981 Young Men Income and Asset Questions

Income Category Receive Income from Source Amount1   Asset/Debt Category Own Asset/
Have Debt
Wages/salaries/tips --- 94.9% Money assets 99.2% 87.5%
Business income 99.1% 87.1% Securities 99.5% 81.5%
Unemployment benefits 99.0% 97.8% Savings bonds 99.6% 86.8%
Veterans Comp/pension 99.6% 94.7% Farm 99.8% 89.5%
Workers' Compensation 99.5% 98.0% Business 99.8% 85.2%
Rental income 96.7% 85.9% Primary residence 99.8% 96.3%
Social Security Disability 99.6% 95.2% Debts: Mortgage -- 86.7%
Farm income 99.6% 86.9% Other debt 99.6% 95.4%
Note: Table is based on R07815., R07819.-R07823., R07826., R07827., R07833.-R07838., R07841., R07842., R07847.-R07851., R07856.-R07861., and R07882.-R07885.
1 Universe is restricted to individuals who received income from the relevant source or had the relevant asset or debt.

Created Variables and Summary Statistics

Survey staff have created a small number of summary income and asset variables for both men's cohorts. The standard variable is 'Total Family Income' or 'Total Net Income of Family.' This variable is created by adding up all of the individual's income categories. Should any of the categories be unavailable, the created variable for that year is labeled "not available." A small number of cases each year have negative income; these individuals have business expenses that are larger than their business and other income. This variable is available in the following survey years:

Older Men: 1966-69, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1990

Young Men: 1966-71, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981

The data sets also include a standard summary variable for wealth entitled 'Total Family Assets' or 'Total Net Family Assets.' This variable was created by adding up the individual's housing, savings, bond, IRA, insurance, and business assets and then subtracting mortgages, loans, and other debts. Users are cautioned that a number of respondents have negative net family assets. These variables are present for the following surveys:

Older Men: 1966, 1969, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1990

Young Men: 1966, 1970, 1971, 1976, 1981

User Notes

Market value of vehicles was not asked consistently of either cohort. In the years in which these data were collected, automobile wealth was included in the total family assets variable. Researchers should keep this variation in mind when comparing data across interviews.

Additionally, users are cautioned that the 1971 and 1976 Young Men data include two different types of total family asset variables--one set that includes vehicle value and one that excludes it. These variables were created so that users could match the total net asset values from earlier survey years, when automobile wealth was not included in the survey.

Survey Instruments: Each year's questionnaire has a section on "Income" or "Assets & Income" where the variables described above are located.