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Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015


In October and November 2015, the Federal Reserve Board's Division of Consumer and Community Affairs conducted the third Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED). This survey has been conducted annually in the fall of each year since 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. It further collects information on household finances that is not readily available from other sources or that 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 situations of households in the United States at the time of the survey, as well their perspectives on financial conditions in the recent past and expectations for conditions in the near future.

The 2015 survey focuses on a range of topics, including

  • the personal finances of U.S. adults;
  • income and spending;
  • economic preparedness and emergency savings;
  • banking, credit access, and credit usage;
  • housing and living arrangements;
  • auto lending;
  • 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.2 In this year's survey, many of the questions from the 2013 and 2014 surveys 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 2,853 respondents from the 2014 SHED ("re-interviewed respondents") and 3,332 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 2,496 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 lower-income population, and allows for a sufficient sample size to reliably compare results for certain questions of interest across segments of the population. Of the 8,681 respondents contacted for the survey, 5,695 respondents completed it, yielding an overall final stage completion rate of 65.5 percent.3 The respondents completed the survey in approximately 20 minutes (median time).

Table 1. Key survey response statistics
Sample type Number sampled Qualified completes Completion rate (percent)
2014 re-interviews 2,853 2,137 74.9
Fresh cases 3,332 2,036 61.1
Lower-income oversample 2,496 1,522 61.0
Overall 8,681 5,695 65.5

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 2015 March Current Population Survey. Further details on the survey methodology are included in appendix A.

As is the case with all surveys, some caution in interpreting the survey results is 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 A).4 Further, the results are all self-reported, and respondents' knowledge and memory may not always be completely accurate when answering survey 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. Unless otherwise noted, the numbers cited in this report are derived from the Board survey and 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 B. The responses to all the survey questions are presented in appendix C 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

2. Questions that mirror those in other datasets also allow for a confirmation of the quality of the SHED data by comparing results for similar questions to those of the other datasets. In 2015, Federal Reserve Board researchers Jeff Larrimore, Maximilian Schmeiser, and Sebastian Devlin-Foltz compared SHED results to those of U.S. Census Bureau datasets and generally found comparable results on these overlapping questions (see Return to text

3. Of the 5,695 respondents who completed the survey, 53 were excluded from the analysis in this report due to either leaving responses to a large number of questions missing, completing the survey unusually quickly, or both. Hence, 5,642 respondents are included in the analysis in this report. Return to text

4. For example, while the survey does weight to match the race and ethnicity of the entire U.S. adult population, there is evidence that the Hispanic population in the survey is somewhat more likely to speak English than the overall Hispanic population in the United States. While the Census Bureau observed that 74 percent of Hispanics in the 2011 American Community Survey speak Spanish at home, just 65 percent of Hispanic SHED respondents who provide information on their language usage report that they speak Spanish at home (see This difference may result from the fact that the SHED survey is only conducted in English and, therefore, non-English speakers will likely be less likely to respond. Return to text

Last update: June 14, 2016

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