Data and Methods

  • Determinants of Wealth Fluctuation
    Methods, Data, Analyses (2017), with Jamie Griffin
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    Measuring fluctuation in families’ economic conditions is the raison d’être of household panel studies. Accordingly, a particularly challenging critique is that extreme fluctuation in measured economic characteristics might indicate compounding measurement error rather than actual changes in families’ economic wellbeing. In this article, we address this claim by moving beyond the assumption that particularly large fluctuation in economic conditions might be too large to be realistic. Instead, we examine predictors of large fluctuation, capturing sources related to actual socio-economic changes as well as potential sources of measurement error. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we study between-wave changes in a dimension of economic wellbeing that is especially hard to measure, namely, net worth as an indicator of total family wealth. Our results demonstrate that even very large between-wave changes in net worth can be attributed to actual socio-economic and demographic processes. We do, however, also identify a potential source of measurement error that contributes to large wealth fluctuation, namely, the treatment of incomplete information, presenting a pervasive challenge for any longitudinal survey that includes questions on economic assets. Our results point to ways for improving wealth variables both in the data collection process (e.g., by measuring active savings) and in data processing (e.g., by improving imputation algorithms).

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  • Measuring Wealth and Wealth Inequality
    Journal of Economic and Social Measurement (2016), with Robert Schoeni, Arthur Kennickell, and Patricia Andreski
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    Household wealth and its distribution are topics of broad public debate and increasing scholarly interest. We compare the relative strength of two of the main data sources used in research on the wealth holdings of U.S. households, the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), by providing a description and explanation of differences in the level and distribution of wealth captured in these two surveys. We identify the factors that account for differences in average net worth but also show that estimates of net worth are similar throughout most of the distribution. Median net worth in the SCF is 6% higher than in the PSID and the largest differences between the two surveys are concentrated in the 1–2 percent wealthiest households, leading to a different view of wealth concentration at the very top but similar results for wealth inequality across most of the distribution.

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  • Neuroscience meets Population Science. What is a representative brain?
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2013), with Emily Falk, Luke Hyde, Colter Mitchell, et al.
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    The last decades of neuroscience research have produced immense progress in the methods available to understand brain structure and function. Social, cognitive, clinical, affective, economic, communication, and developmental neurosciences have begun to map the relationships between neuro-psychological processes and behavioral outcomes, yielding a new understanding of human behavior and promising interventions. However, a limitation of this fast moving research is that most findings are based on small samples of convenience. Furthermore, our understanding of individual differences may be distorted by unrepresentative samples, undermining findings regarding brain–behavior mechanisms. These limitations are issues that social demographers, epidemiologists, and other population scientists have tackled, with solutions that can be applied to neuroscience. By contrast, nearly all social science disciplines, including social demography, sociology, political science, economics, communication science, and psychology, make assumptions about processes that involve the brain, but have incorporated neural measures to differing, and often limited, degrees; many still treat the brain as a black box. In this article, we describe and promote a perspective—population neuroscience—that leverages interdisciplinary expertise to (i) emphasize the importance of sampling to more clearly define the relevant populations and sampling strategies needed when using neuroscience methods to address such questions; and (ii) deepen understanding of mechanisms within population science by providing insight regarding underlying neural mechanisms. Doing so will increase our confidence in the generalizability of the findings. We provide examples to illustrate the population neuroscience approach for specific types of research questions and discuss the potential for theoretical and applied advances from this approach across areas.

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  • Future Research in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences with the PSID
    National Science Foundation White Paper (2010), with Charles Brown et al.
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    There are extraordinary opportunities to address the next generation of research challenges in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences that build on the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). First, PSID offers untapped opportunities to examine questions of relevance to our understanding of environmental sustainability. Second, cross-national harmonization of PSID with other national panel surveys will be instrumental for developing and facilitating new research on the effects of policies and institutions. Third, measuring genetic information in PSID will open a wide range of new studies on social and economic behavior and outcomes. Advances in these areas will provide a foundation for future research and for new interdisciplinary collaborations.

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