Housing Surveys Are Unreliable

The MacArthur Foundation, in reporting the results of a survey, would have us believe that “over half of all U.S. adults (52%) have had to make at least one sacrifice in order to cover their rent or mortgage. . . .  Such sacrifice included getting an additional job, deferring saving for retirement, cutting back on health care and healthy foods, running up credit card debt, or moving to a less safe neighborhood or one with worse schools”.  This is unreliable information.   All you get from surveys are answers, what respondents say; in this case, what they say they have sacrificed to cover their rent or mortgage.  As we all know, what people say often does not conform to what they do.  This disjunction between words and deeds has entered our language; for example, in the phrases: Actions speak louder than words, and, Don’t do as I do, do as I say.

At a minimum, we need to know people’s total income and spending in order to accurately assess what they have and have not done in terms of rent or mortgage, healthcare, etc.  We need salary and bank statements, receipts, etc., not answers to questions.

Moreover, asking respondents what sacrifices they have made (to pay their rent or mortgage, or sacrifices they have made for anything else, such as educating their children, saving for retirement, etc.) generates answers about sacrifices (made for educating their children, saving for retirement, etc.).  Everyone is all the time sacrificing one thing for another; it’s call prioritizing, choosing from the available alternatives.

For a complete statement of the fatal flaws of survey research (any instrument or procedure that asks questions of respondents), see my book, The Problem with Survey Research.

About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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