Researchers find spouses lie when wives earn more

Marriage rates up 020816_130634

The Census Bureau stumbled onto a trend when they matched survey responses on income to IRS filings.

When wives earn more than their husbands do, husbands say they earn more and wives say they earned less.

The Census Bureau is working to improve the quality of reported earnings because they “are critical for understanding the pulse of the nation and overall well-being of individuals in society,” said Bruce Meyer, economist at the Census Bureau and McCormick Foundation Professor at the University of Chicago Harris Public Policy School.

According to this research, society plays a role in how married-couple relationships report their earnings.

The Census Bureau found social norms can drive how we report information about ourselves to others. Specifically when a wife earns more, both husbands and wives exaggerate the husband’s earnings and diminish the wife’s.

Researchers found that when wives earn more than their husbands, husbands report earnings that are 2.9 percentage points higher when they respond to surveys compared to what’s in their tax filings.

When a spouse fills out a survey vs when an individual fills out the survey they found that husbands overstate their own earnings less than wives do and wives devalue their own earnings less than husbands do.

In other words, survey reports of earnings are more heavily influenced by gender norms when earnings are reported by a person’s spouse.

“We made a critical finding that adds to the understanding of gender norms and the quality of income statistics, in particular wage gaps among different-sex married couples,” said Marta Murray-Close, economist at the Census Bureau and coauthor of the study.

In the sample analyzed, around 1 in 4 couples are in marriages where the wife earns more than the husband does.

According to the Census Bureau, the findings demonstrate the importance of understanding societal norms and their influence on data collection and survey responses.

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