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Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2013


In September 2013, the Federal Reserve Board's Division of Consumer and Community Affairs conducted the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED).

The SHED was conducted to capture a snapshot of the financial and economic well-being of U.S. households, as well as to monitor their recovery from the recent recession and identify any risks to their financial stability. It further collected information on households that was not readily available from other sources or was not available in combination with other variables of interest. The survey was designed in consultation with Federal Reserve System staff and outside academics with relevant research backgrounds.

The SHED provides a nationally representative snapshot of the economic situation of households in the United States at the time of the survey, as well their perspective on financial conditions in the recent past and expectations for conditions in the near future.

The survey contains questions on a range of topics, including

  • the personal finances of households;
  • housing and living arrangements;
  • credit access and behavior;
  • education and student debt;
  • savings;
  • retirement; and
  • health-related expenses.

Survey Background

The SHED was designed by Board staff and administered by GfK, an online consumer research company, on behalf of the Board. The questions included in the survey were designed to better illuminate the activities, experiences, and attitudes of individual consumers and households as they experienced their financial lives. In particular, several questions were included throughout the survey to better understand how households fared financially through the Great Recession and its aftermath, as well as their expectations regarding their households' future financial well-being. The SHED questions were designed to complement and augment the existing base of knowledge from other data sources, including the Board's own Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF).1 In most cases, original questions were asked of respondents, although occasionally questions mirrored those from other surveys in order to provide direct comparisons and understand how certain variables interact with others.

The survey was conducted using a sample of adults ages 18 and over from KnowledgePanel ®, a proprietary, probability-based web panel of more than 50,000 individuals from randomly sampled households. The sample is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. After pretesting, the data collection for the survey began on September 17, 2013, and concluded on October 4, 2013. As shown in table 1, e-mails were sent to 6,912 randomly selected members of KnowledgePanel resulting in 4,134 completed surveys and yielding a final stage completion rate of 59.8 percent. The respondents completed the survey in approximately 19 minutes (median time). Further details on the survey methodology are included in appendix 1.

Table 1. Key survey response statistics: Main interview
Number sampled from main survey Qualified completes Completion rate
6,912 4,134 59.8%

As is the case with all surveys, some cautions in interpreting the survey results are prudent. Although the survey was designed to be nationally representative, some degree of selection bias is possible nonetheless (see appendix 1). Further, the results are all self-reported, and respondents' knowledge and memory may not always be completely accurate when answering survey questions. In anticipation of this challenge, certain questions were designed to avoid the appearance of false precision. For example, the survey could have asked respondents what their credit score was, but expectations were modest that many consumers would actually know the precise answer. Rather, the survey asked, "If you had to guess, how would you rate your current credit score?"; then it offered a range of imprecise but nonetheless meaningful options ranging from Poor to Excellent. In this way, the survey anticipated that typical respondents may have some limitations on their ability to precisely know and remember the answers to certain questions. Readers of the survey results are encouraged to keep these limitations in mind.

The following sections of this report summarize key findings from the SHED. The numbers cited in this report are derived from the Board survey unless otherwise noted. All data were weighted to yield estimates for the U.S. adult population. Only a subset of questions asked in the SHED are discussed in the report; however, the complete survey questionnaire is summarized in appendix 2. The responses to all the survey questions are presented in appendix 3 in the order that the questions were asked of respondents.

In general, the responses to the questions are discussed with reference to the entire population. However, for certain areas of inquiry where variation by demographic or socioeconomic factors may be anticipated, the responses are disaggregated by these factors and corresponding discussion is provided. For instance, the section on retirement planning includes a discussion of the role played by the respondents' ages. Given historic differences in racial lending patterns, the discussion of access to credit includes a discussion of variation by race/ethnicity. A table of summary statistics for the respondents' demographics is provided as table C.101. Cross-tabulations for additional questions by demographic and socioeconomic variations are available in an online appendix adjacent to the report at

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1. For more information on the SCF or to access SCF data, see to text

Last update: August 15, 2014

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