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Measuring living standards

Researchers: Professor Thomas Crossley | Zoe Oldfield

Project overview

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 well-being.

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.


  • Professor Thomas Crossley
    Institute for Fiscal Studies
  • Zoe Oldfield
    Institute for Fiscal Studies

  • Director, Welfare
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

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