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WU Researchers Awarded Nancy and Richard Ruggles Memorial Prize

WU researchers Stefan Angel, Franziska Disslbacher (both from the Department of Socioeconomics), Stefan Humer (Research Institute for Economics of Inequality), and Matthias Schnetzer (Vienna Chamber of Labour and lecturer at WU) were awarded the prestigious Nancy and Richard Ruggles Memorial Prize 2018 from the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth (IARIW) for their paper “What did you really earn last year: Explaining measurement error in survey income data.” The prize is awarded to honor the best papers by junior researchers up to the age of 35 years. The $ 2,500 prize is presented every two years at the IARIW conference. This year’s award ceremony was held on August 21 in Copenhagen.

The Research Project

In their study, the researchers analyzed anonymized income data from the Austrian Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) for the period from 2008 to 2011. The income data from the survey was combined with income data from administrative records and compared on the level of the individual earner. The study showed that the survey data deviated markedly from the data in the administrative records, and the objective of the project was to find out why.

The analysis showed that the differences did not occur randomly. Using a variety of quantitative methods, four different reasons for the discrepancies were investigated: 1) Social desirability: People with low incomes tended to indicate a higher income on the survey than they actually earned according to the administrative data, while wealthy respondents entered on average less than they actually earned; 2) Socio-demographic factors: Men, for example, tended to indicate a higher income than they earned according to administrative data; 3) Interview method: Discrepancies were not greater in telephone interviews than in person; 4) Learning effects: There was no significant reduction in discrepancies when subjects were questioned about their income repeatedly in subsequent years. Factors 1) and 2) proved to be the most significant in explaining the differences between income data obtained through surveys and from administrative records.

The results indicate that response behavior in social statistical surveys is affected by the subject’s perception of social processes. On matters like poverty risk and wealth distribution, surveys like the SILC provide both researchers and policy makers with key data, making the quality of the data particularly important. From this perspective, connecting survey data and recorded data to get a better understanding of the reasons behind the differences between the data sets is fundamental. This study shows that income and gender are particularly significant factors in the observed discrepancies.

(from left to right): Timothy Smeeding (Distinguished Speaker at the Ruggles Memorial Lecture); Andrew Sharpe (Executive Director, IARIW); Stefan Humer, Franziska Disslbacher, Stefan Angel (all WU); Albert Braakmann (President, IARIW)

Further Information

Nancy and Richard Ruggles Prize

The aim of the Prize is to promote the development of young researchers by recognizing their outstanding scholarship. One Prize will be awarded competitively on the basis of a paper presented at the General Conference of the International Association for Research in Income and Wealth (IARIW) and judged by the Trustees of the Fund.

IARIW 35th General Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark, August 20-25, 2018

Founded in 1947, IARIW is a leading scientific association in the field of income and wealth research. Its quarterly journal Review of Income and Wealth has been published since 1966.

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