In American families where the wife makes more than the husband, there’s a tendency for the men to exaggerate their income when responding to income surveys, as opposed to what they report to the Internal Revenue Service, while women understate theirs, according to the United States Census Bureau.
“When a wife earns more, both husbands and wives exaggerate the husband’s earnings and diminish the wife’s,” according to a news release. “But, husbands overstate their own earnings less than wives do, and wives devalue their own earnings less than husbands do.”
According to the research, men whose wives earn more than they do, pump their incomes by an average of 2.9 percent compared to what they reported to the IRS. For example, a man who reported $30,000 in income to the IRS would add about $870 when reporting to the Census Bureau.
If that man’s wife reported $40,000 in income to the IRS, they would tell Census their income was $39,400, a $600 difference.
This, researchers say, could skew policy because “wage and earnings data underlie a majority of federal statistics on income, inequality and poverty, and are critical for understanding the pulse of the nation and overall well-being of individuals in society,” according to Bruce Meyer, economist at the Census Bureau and McCormick Foundation Professor at the University of Chicago Harris Public Policy School in a statement.
The findings shed light on the impact of social norms and how they affect the way in which people report information to the government.
“We made a critical finding that adds to the understanding of gender norms and the quality of income statistics, in particular wage gaps among opposite-sex married couples,” said Marta Murray-Close, economist at the Census Bureau and coauthor of the study.
The Census Bureau found that in 22.9 percent of married couples, the women earned more than the men.
The research underscored the need for Census to come up with “alternative sources of data,” as opposed to self-reported surveys.