Income & Assets


Young Women Income & Assets Variables

Respondents were asked numerous questions about their income, assets, and debts over the course of the surveys. While many researchers use income as the primary measure of economic resources available to a respondent, users can draw a more complete picture of economic well-being by examining both income and wealth. Wealth, which is equal to a respondent's assets minus her debts, reflects the total financial resources available to the respondent.

Data Summary

In every survey year, respondents were asked about their income. Table YW1 presents the broad range of income questions asked since 1968, including wages, business and farm income, rental income, interest and dividends, public assistance support sources, and alimony. In early survey years, respondents were asked about the combined income of themselves and their husbands; in later years, respondents were asked separate questions on how much income they and their husbands received (pretax) from the various sources. Beginning in 1983, respondents were also asked about the income of their partners. In years when the entire survey was shortened, some income sources were combined into fewer questions; in years when a more in-depth survey was used, the questions were separated.

In addition to the in-depth questions about the income of the respondent and her husband or partner, respondents also provided their estimate for total income of all individuals in the family in some years, while in other years they were asked to estimate the total income of all individuals except their husbands and themselves. Finally, respondents were asked in select years about their ability to get along on their family's income, with choices ranging from "always have money left over" to "can't make ends meet."

Correctly gauging respondent income is a complicated task. Respondents may misreport their total income due to the many sources of income and debt they must consider. A final income figure is calculated based on questions about individual income sources. The 1988-2003 surveys first asked respondents about the total income of all people living at the residence. Respondents were then asked to provide a detailed breakdown of each type of income for themselves and their spouses/partners. These questions provide researchers with a method of checking how close an individual's rough guess of income is to the more finely derived total.

Table YW1. Income Questions: 1968-2003

Question1 Survey Year
68-73 75 77 78 80 82 83 85, 87 88, 91 93 95-03
Wage & Salary * * * * * * * * * * *
Business Income * * * * * * * * * * *
Farm Income * * * * * * * * * * *
Interest, Dividends * * * * * * * * * * *
Rental Income * * * * * * * * * * *
Social Security             *   * * *
Pension Income             *   * * *
Unemployment Compensation * * * * * * * * * * *
Workers' Compensation       *     *   * * *
Disability Income * * * * * * *   * * *
Welfare (AFDC) * * * * * * * * * * *
Food Stamps     * * * * * * * * *
Alimony, Child Support       * * * * * * * *
Assistance from Relatives *       * *   *   *  
Total Family Income * * * *   * * * * * *
Ability to Get Along on Income         * *   *     * (03)
R and Husband/Partner Keep Joint or Separate Accounts                   * *
1 All income categories are not asked as separate questions in all years; categories were most often combined in telephone surveys.

Respondents have periodically been asked a full set of asset questions. Table YW2 depicts the questions pertaining to assets by survey year; note that telephone surveys are omitted from the table because no asset questions were asked in those surveys. When respondents are asked the full selection of questions, they provide information on the value and mortgage of their home, cash assets, business and farm activity, vehicles, and other debts. In several years, respondents have also been asked to rate their overall financial position as better than, worse than, or about the same as the previous year.

Table YW2. Asset Questions: 1968-2003

 Question Survey Years
68 69, 70 71-73 78 83, 88 91 93 95-03
Own Home/Apartment *   * * *   * *
Market Value of Property *   * * *   * *
Amount Owed on Property *   * * *   * *
Have Estate/Trust           * * *
Amount Estate/Trust           * * *
Have Money Assets *   * * * * * *
Amount of Money Assets *   * * * * * *
Have Savings Bonds *   * * *   * *
Amount of Savings Bonds *   * * *   * *
Have Stocks/Bonds *   * * *   * *
Value of Stocks/Bonds *   * * *   * *
Have IRA/Keogh/401k/Life Insurance               *
Amount IRA/Keogh/401k/Life Insurance               *
People Owe You Money         *   * *
Amount Owed to You         *   * *
Own Farm/Business/Real Estate *   * * *   * *
Market Value Farm/Business/Real Estate *   * * *   * *
Amount Debts Farm/Business/Real Estate *   * * *   * *
Own Vehicles *   * * *   * *
Owe Any Money on Vehicles *   * *     * *
Amount Owe on Vehicles *   * *     * *
Market Value of Vehicles     * *     * *
Make/Model/Year of Vehicle *   *          
Owe Money to Creditors *   * * *   * *
Amount Owed to Creditors *   * * *   * *
Received Inheritance since DOLI           * * *
Received Life Insurance Settlement               *
Better/Worse Financially   * * * * * * *


One major concern when asking individuals about their income and wealth is nonresponse bias. While it is outside the scope of this chapter to fully investigate nonresponse bias, this section briefly describes nonresponse in 1997 as an example of the issues raised. There are two primary types of questions on income and assets (or debts): general questions asking whether the respondent received income from a particular source or owned a particular asset, and specific questions asking about the amount of income or value of the asset. Factors that are likely to contribute to nonresponse are suspicion, uncertainty, shared responsibility for family finances, and complex financial arrangements.

Table YW3 provides information on response rates to questions on income in the 1997 survey. Respondents who refuse to answer, who respond with "don't know," or who are valid or invalid skips are all counted as nonresponses. The cohort has high response rates on the receipt questions--generally around 96 percent. The percentages in the amount column are based only on individuals who reported receiving that type of income. These amount questions show much lower response rates. For example, the response rate for business and farm income drops by more than 12 percent.

Table YW3.  Response Rates to Income Questions (Unweighted): 1997

Respondent's Income Receive Income from Source? Amount1
Wages/Salaries/Tips 95.8% 91.1%
Business/Farm 95.4 83.0
Unemployment Benefits 96.2 94.6
Social Security 96.3 95.7
Veterans Comp/Pension 96.3 81.5
Workers' Compensation 96.3 73.5
Social Security Disability 96.3 92.7
Other Disability 96.3 97.1
Note: This table is calculated from R41534.00-R41538.00, R41540.00-R41544.00, R41546.00, and R41548.00-R41555.00.
1 Universe is restricted to individuals who receive income from the relevant source.

Table YW4 provides information on response rates to questions on wealth in the 1997 survey. The table again shows high response rates on the ownership questions--generally 94 percent or higher. The amount column is based only on individuals who own a particular asset or have a particular debt. These amount questions have much lower response rates.

Table YW4.  Response Rates to Questions on Wealth (Unweighted): 1997

Type of Wealth Ownership Amount1
Assets: Money Assets2 94.1% 77.0%
Securities2 93.9 62.9
Savings Bonds2 94.0 75.9
Primary Residence 96.9 90.9
Vehicles 96.1 84.1
Liabilities: Mortgage -- 88.8
Vehicle Debt 98.6 89.9
Note: This table is calculated from R41463.00-R41465.00, R41473.00-R41474.00, R41483.00-R41484.00, R41478.00-R41479.00, and R41528.00-R41531.00.
1 Universe is restricted to individuals who have the relevant asset or debt.
2 In addition, 19.5% of the respondents answered the stepladder questions for money assets, 29.8% for securities, and 20.2% for savings bonds.

Beginning in 1995, questions about some asset categories incorporated a "stepladder" to obtain some information from respondents who initially refused to answer or did not know the answer to an asset value question. For example, if a respondent refused to state or didn't know the value of her securities, she was then asked whether the value was over $15,000. If she answered affirmatively, she was asked whether the value was over $40,000. If the value of the securities was less than $15,000, she reported whether it was more than $5,000. This system was used to obtain some information about several asset categories; the ranges of the values are adjusted so that they are appropriate for each category. Users should consult the questionnaire or codebook if they are interested in determining the types of assets and ranges for which stepladders were used in 1995 and subsequent surveys.

Top Coding

To ensure respondent confidentiality, income variables exceeding particular limits are truncated each survey year so that values exceeding the upper limits are converted to a set maximum value. These upper limits vary by year, as do the set maximum values. From 1968 to 1971, upper limit dollar amounts were set to 999999. From 1972 to 1980, upper limit amounts were set to maximum values of 50000, and in 1982 and 1983 the set maximum value was 50001. Beginning in 1985, income amounts exceeding $100,000 were converted to a set maximum value of 100001. The top coding system changed in 1999; this is reflected in the codebook page for each variable.

From the cohort's inception, asset variables exceeding upper limits were truncated to 999999. Beginning in 1983, assets exceeding one million were converted to a set maximum value of 999997. Starting in 1993, the Census Bureau also topcoded selected asset items if it considered that release of the absolute value might aid in identification of a respondent. This topcoding was conducted on a case-by-case basis with the mean of the top three values substituted for each respondent who reported such amounts. 

Created Values and Summary Statistics

Survey staff have created a small number of summary income and asset variables for this cohort. The standard variable, created in 1968-73, 1978, 1983, and 1988-2003, is entitled 'Total Net Income of Family.'  This variable is created by adding up all of the individual's income categories. Should any of the categories be unavailable, the created variable for that year is labeled "not available."A small number of cases each year have negative income; these individuals have business expenses that are larger than their business and other income. The peak number of respondents with negative family income occurred in 1983 and 1995, when seven individuals fell into this category.

Because 'Total Family Income' was only created for respondents for whom data were available for all income items, it includes a large number of missing values each year. To make it easier to use the available income information, beginning in 1991 survey staff created a second total income variable summing the reported income values regardless of whether all items were answered. This summary variable can be found by searching for "Summation" in the variable title.

The data set also includes a standard summary variable for wealth entitled 'Total Net Family Assets,' created in 1968, 1971-73, 1978, 1983, 1988, and 1993-2003. 'Total Net Family Assets' is created by adding up the individual's housing, savings, bond, IRA, insurance, and business assets and then subtracting mortgages, loans, and other debts; it excludes automobile wealth. Users are cautioned that a number of respondents have negative net family assets.

Related Variables: Recent surveys have collected detailed information about pension income; these data are discussed in the Pension Benefits & Pension Plans section of this guide. Additional income sources are described in the Program Participation and Social Security & Disability sections.

Survey Instruments: Income and wealth information is collected in the "Income" or "Income and Assets" section of each year's questionnaire.

User Notes

A number of respondents have husbands or parents in the other NLS Original Cohorts. If the respondent is part of a multiple respondent household, researchers may be able to compare the respondent's income and asset information with that provided by other members of her family. (For more information on the possible linkages, users should refer to the Household Composition section of this guide.)  Using the husband-wife pairs may provide a more complete picture of a respondent's available resources, while the parent-child pairs provide researchers with information on how income and assets are propagated across generations.