An Investigation of the Extent and Consequences of Measurement Error in Labor-Economic Survey Data
Journal of Labor Economics
We investigate the accuracy of young women's retrospective reporting on their first substantial employment in three major, nationally-representative United States surveys, examining hypotheses that longer recall duration, employment histories with lower salience and higher complexity, and an absence of "anchoring" biographical details will adversely affect reporting accuracy. We compare retrospective reports to benchmark panel survey estimates for the same cohorts. We find that sociodemographic
... at sociodemographic groupsnotably non-Hispanic White women and women with college-educated mothers-whose early employment histories at these ages are in aggregate more complex (multiple jobs) and lower in salience (more part-time jobs), underreport the occurrence of their early first job or employment, and misreport their first job or employment as occurring at an older age. We also find that retrospective reports are skewed towards overreporting longer, and therefore more salient, later jobs over shorter, earlier jobs. Finally, we find that women with "anchoring" early family-formation events, especially births, report more accurately on their first substantial employment. Overall, however, our results indicate that retrospective questions capture these summary indicators of first substantial employment reasonably accurately. Moreover, this accuracy is especially high for groups of women who are more likely to experience labor-market disadvantage, and women with early births.