Measuring living standards

Measuring households’ living standards has long been a fundamental concern of social science. However, the UK’s most widely-used measure of material well-being – household income – has many well-known limitations. Households with identical incomes may enjoy widely differing living standards, due to differing savings and access to credit. Moreover, incomes appear to be particularly poorly measured among deprived households. Household expenditure is arguably a less noisy, more accurate gauge of material wellbeing.

Despite this, virtually all major UK household surveys include questions regarding income, while few (if any) contain questions regarding expenditure. The reason is simple: there is currently no proven approach to collecting expenditure information quickly and accurately, as part of a general purpose survey.

This project will fill this gap, developing quick, reliable expenditure questions using an innovative mix of focus groups and cognitive testing. Such questions will form a substantial public good for survey designers, researchers and  policymakers.

Project details



Ms Zoe Oldfield, and Mr Tom Crossley, Institute for Fiscal Studies

Funding Programme:

Open Door

Amount and Start Date:


May 2011


Developing Quick Expenditure Questions (23rd April 2014). Margaret Blake, Martin Browning, Thomas Crossley, Jo D'Ardenne, Zoe Oldfield and Joachim Winter