Asking Retrospective Questions in Household Surveys: Evidence from Vietnam

Author Name NAKATA Hiroyuki  (University of Essex) /SAWADA Yasuyuki  (Faculty Fellow, RIETI) /TANAKA Mari  (the University of Tokyo)
Creation Date/NO. February 2010 10-E-008
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Asking retrospective questions about consumption and income has become an important part of household surveys and research in developing countries. While recall errors in retrospective data may generate estimation biases, the nature and the magnitude of the errors are largely unknown, especially in the context of developing countries. To fill this gap in the existing studies, we collect unique household data from Vietnam, a resurvey of respondents of the Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey (VHLSS) 2006. This combined data allows us to investigate a variety of errors associated with recall surveys and the size of consumption categories in questionnaires. Our empirical results suggest that asking for total expenditure, rather than categorical expenditure, will cause fewer recall errors in a retrospective survey. This is especially true in the case of purchased or bartered consumption expenditure. Our results also suggest that while recall errors in the categorical sum of expenditure may exhibit mean-reverting patterns, retrospective total expenditure data is less likely to involve problems of mean reverting measurement error.