The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) is normally a triennial cross-sectional survey of U.S. families. The survey data include information on families’ balance sheets, pensions, income, and demographic characteristics. Information is also included from related surveys of pension providers and the earlier such surveys conducted by the Federal Reserve Board. No other study for the country collects comparable information. Data from the SCF are widely used, from analysis at the Federal Reserve and other branches of government to scholarly work at the major economic research centers.
The survey has contained a panel element over two periods. Respondents to the 1983 survey were re-interviewed in 1986 and 1989. Respondents to the 2007 survey were re-interviewed in 2009.
The study is sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board in cooperation with the Department of the Treasury. Since 1992, data have been collected by the NORC at the University of Chicago.
To ensure the representativeness of the study, respondents are selected randomly using procedures described in the technical working papers on this web site. A strong attempt is made to select families from all economic strata.
Participation in the study is strictly voluntary. However, because only about 6,500 families were interviewed in the most recent study, every family selected is very important to the results. To maintain the scientific validity of the study, interviewers are not allowed to substitute respondents for families that do not participate. Thus, if a family declines to participate, it means that families like theirs may not be represented clearly in national discussions.
The confidentiality of the information provided in the study is of the highest importance to NORC and the Federal Reserve. Strenuous efforts are made to protect the privacy of participants, and in the history of the survey, there has never been a leak. The names of the participants in the survey are known only to NORC, which has more than 50 years of successful experience in collecting confidential information.
For the 1983 and 1989 surveys, a separate Survey of Pension Providers (SPP) was conducted to obtain detailed technical information on the pensions of SCF particpants; data and documentation for the SPP appear under a separate link.
A link is also given for data and documentation from the 1962 Survey of Financial Characteristics of Consumers (SFCC) and the 1963 Survey of Changes in Family Finances (SCFF); these surveys are the most direct precursors of the SCF.