Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) Interview and Diary Surveys


Data on Health and Well-being of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Other Native Americans, Data Catalog

Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) Interview and Diary Surveys

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Sponsor: U.S. Department of Labor (DoL)/Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Description: The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) consists of two surveys  the quarterly Interview survey and the Diary survey  that provide information on the buying habits of American consumers, including data on their expenditures, income, and consumer unit (families and single consumers) characteristics. The Diary survey asks consumers to track their expenditures over a two-week period. The Interview survey gathers similar data in a series of quarterly computer-assisted interviews.

The CE is a basic source of data for revising the items and weights in the market basket of consumer purchases to be priced for the Consumer Price Index. It is also used to construct statistical measures of consumption, for analysis of expenditure patterns by individual and family characteristics, in market research studies, in economic research, and to develop consumer guidance materials.

Relevant Policy Issues: Measurement of Economic/Employment Disparities, Income Status, Unemployment Rates, and Economic Assistance Program Participation Rates.
Data Type(s): Survey
Unit of Analysis: Consumer Unit. A consumer unit consists of any of the following: (1) all members of a particular household who are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangements; (2) a person living alone or sharing a household with others or living as a roomer in a private home or lodging house or in permanent living quarters in a hotel or motel, but who is financially independent; or (3) two or more persons living together who use their incomes to make joint expenditure decisions. The terms consumer unit, family, and household are often used interchangeably for convenience. However, the proper technical term for purposes of the Consumer Expenditure Survey is consumer unit.
Identification of AI/AN/NA: Race is self-reported. There are no specific instructions given for self-identification. Respondents are permitted to check all that apply. The categories available:
  • White
  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN)
  • Asian
  • Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (NH/PI)
AI/AN/NA Population in Data Set: The (unweighted) numbers of AI/AN/NA represented in the CE Diary 2004 are:
TOTAL: 14,917
AI/AN: 80
NH/PI: 55

The (unweighted) numbers of AI/AN/NA represented in the CE Interview 2004 are:
TOTAL: 38,844
AI/AN: 204
NH/PI: 118

Geographic Scope: The geographic scope of the CE is national. The microdata includes the following geographic identifiers that would support analyses: some states, city population size, and rural vs. urban areas.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics makes state identifiers available for use with the public-use CD-ROMs, although some states are not identified because the sample size for each state is very small. Further information about geographic identifiers can be obtained from the Bureaus Division of Consumer Expenditure Surveys, by e-mail at or by telephone at (202) 691-6900.

Consumer expenditure data for selected Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) also are published in the biennial reports. For confidentiality reasons, MSA identifiers are not included on the public-use microdata on CD-ROMs.

Date or Frequency: The CE has been conducted annually since 1984 and will continue to be conducted annually. Data are available for all years the CE has been conducted.
Aggregation: BLS sells microdata for the 1984-2004 CE on CD-ROM. These data can be integrated if careful attention is paid to differences across the forms from collection to collection as well as differences in sampling design from collection to collection. BLS recommends that to represent the covered population in aggregating the data, the quarterly weights should be used for each consumer unit. See the following link for what is available and price lists:

If the 2003 and 2004 data were aggregated, the resulting (unweighted) Ns would be:

Diary data
TOTAL: 30,744
AI/AN: 176
NH/PI: 109

Interview data
TOTAL: 79,218
AI/AN: 417
NH/PI: 196

Data Collection Methodology: The diary component uses a self-administered paper-and-pencil diary that is returned to BLS. The interview component is conducted in person using a computer-assisted personal interview protocol or a laptop computer.
Participation: Optional, without incentives
Response Rate: The following table represents response rate information for the 2001, 2002 and 2003 CE:
  Interview Diary
2001 - Percent of eligible units interviewed 78.0 74.9
2002 - Percent of eligible units interviewed 78.0 74.1
2003 - Percent of eligible units interviewed 78.6 73.4
Sampling Methodology: The CE is a national probability sample of households designed to represent the total U.S. civilian noninstitutional population. The selection of households begins with the definition and selection of primary sampling units (PSUs), which consist of counties (or parts thereof), groups of counties, or independent cities. Within these PSUs, the sampling frame (that is, the list from which housing units are chosen) for the Consumer Expenditure Survey is generated from the 2000 Census 100-percent detail file. The frame is augmented by a sample drawn from new construction permits and extra housing units identified through improvements in coverage techniques.

The Census Bureau selects a sample of approximately 12,500 addresses for participation in the Diary survey each year. The Interview survey is a rotating panel survey in which approximately 15,000 addresses are contacted in each calendar quarter of the year. One-fifth of the addresses contacted each quarter are new to the survey and provide the bounding interviews that afford baseline data, but are not used to compute the surveys published expenditure estimates. After a housing unit has been in the sample for five consecutive quarters, it is dropped from the panel and a new housing unit is selected to replace it.

Analysis: Beginning with year 2000 data, the Consumer Expenditure Survey program made available standard error tables using integrated data from both surveys. These standard error tables correspond to the programs standard tables, except for the classification by region, population size of area of residence, and selected age.

Selected standard error tables are available at

Detailed information on how to use the standard error tables is provided at:

Authorization: The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts the Consumer Expenditure Diary Survey under the authority of Title 29 of the U.S. Code. Congress authorizes the financial support for the survey through Public Laws 94-439 and 95-205.
Strengths: The CE is a very well-documented series of studies; much of this documentation is available on-line. Multiple years of data are available.
Limitations: There are a very small number of AI/AN/NA respondents in the data from the CE Diary 2004 and only a moderate number in the CE Interview 2004. For maximum utility, CE data should be aggregated across multiple years to increase the numbers of AI/AN/NA respondents represented in the sample. Aggregation of the data, however, may require sophisticated programming and statistical skills.
Access Requirements and Use Restrictions: Microdata are available to the public. Cost per annual CD is $145.
Contact Information: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Consumer Expenditure Surveys -- Branch of Information and Analysis
Postal Square Building, Room 3985
2 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20212-0001

Telephone- (202) 691-6900
FAX- (202) 691-7006
E Mail-

For information on how to obtain the actual data, please contact BLS officials using the contact information given above. There is also an online table generator available at the CE homepage at:

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