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What Do Survey Data Tell Us about U.S. Businesses?

Staff Report 568 | Published March 3, 2020

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Anmol Bhandari Visiting Scholar
Serdar Birinci Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Kurt See Bank of Canada
What Do Survey Data Tell Us about U.S. Businesses?


This paper examines the reliability of widely used surveys on U.S. businesses. We compare survey responses of business owners with administrative data and document large inconsistencies in business incomes, receipts, and the number of owners. We document problems due to nonrepresentative samples and measurement errors. Nonrepresentativeness is reflected in undersampling of owners with low incomes. Measurement errors arise because respondents do not refer to relevant documents and possibly because of framing issues. We discuss implications for statistics of interest, such as business valuations and returns. We conclude that predictions based on current survey data should be treated with caution.

Published in _American Economic Review: Insights_ (Vol. 2, No. 4, December 2020, pp. 443-458),

Related: [Staff Report 578: Data Appendix: What Do Survey Data Tell Us about U.S. Businesses?](

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