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Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2014


In October 2014, the Federal Reserve Board's Division of Consumer and Community Affairs conducted the second Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED). The first survey was conducted in September 2013.

The SHED aims 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. In doing so, it collects information on households that is not readily available from other sources or is 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 focuses on a range of topics, including

  • the personal finances of households;
  • economic fragility and emergency savings;
  • savings and spending;
  • housing and living arrangements;
  • banking, credit access, and credit usage;
  • education and student debt; and
  • retirement.

Survey Background

The SHED was designed by Board staff and is administered by GfK, an online consumer research company, on behalf of the Board. The questions in the survey are designed to better illuminate the activities, experiences, and attitudes of individual consumers regarding their financial lives and the financial well-being of those in their household. They are intended 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 are asked of respondents, although occasionally questions mirror those from other surveys in order to provide direct comparisons and understand how certain variables interact with others. In this year's survey, many of the questions from the 2013 survey are repeated to enable longitudinal tracking, while new questions are introduced as well.

The survey is conducted using a sample of adults ages 18 and over from KnowledgePanel ®, a probability-based web panel designed by GfK that includes more than 50,000 individuals from randomly sampled households. The sample for the survey was drawn from the overall panel based on three criteria. As shown in table 1, e-mails were sent to 2,190 randomly selected respondents from the 2013 SHED ("re-interviewed respondents") and 4,059 randomly selected respondents from the remaining members of KnowledgePanel ® ("fresh respondents"). The survey also includes an oversample of lower-income individuals by sending e-mails to 2,726 randomly selected respondents with a household income under $40,000 per year who are not included in the initial sample of re-interviewed respondents or fresh respondents. This oversample improves the precision of estimates among the low-income population and allows for a sufficient sample size to reliably compare results for certain questions of interest across segments of the population. Overall, of the 8,975 respondents contacted for the survey, 5,896 respondents completed it, yielding an overall final stage completion rate of 65.7 percent. The respondents completed the survey in approximately 19 minutes (median time). Recognizing that the sample demographics may differ from that of the overall U.S. population, especially given the oversample of respondents making under $40,000, survey results are weighted based on the demographic characteristics of the respondents to match characteristics from 2014 March Current Population Survey. Further details on the survey methodology are included in appendix 1.

Table 1. Key survey response statistics
  Number sampled Qualified completes Completion
2013 re-interviews 2,190 1,710 78.1%
Fresh cases 4,059 2,552 62.9%
Lower income oversample 2,726 1,634 59.9%
Overall 8,975 5,896 65.7%

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 beyond that which can be corrected through weighting 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 ask respondents what their credit score is, but expectations were modest that many consumers would actually know the precise answer. Rather, the survey asks, "If you had to guess, how would you rate your current credit score?"--then it offers a range of imprecise but nonetheless meaningful options ranging from Poor to Excellent. In this way, the survey anticipates 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 are 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.

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

Last update: June 9, 2015

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