The Journal of Economic Inequality

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 487–505 | Cite as

Survey mode effects on measured income inequality

  • Pirmin FesslerEmail author
  • Maximilian Kasy
  • Peter Lindner


We study the effect of interview modes on estimates of economic inequality which are based on survey data. We exploit variation in interview modes in the Austrian EU-SILC panel, where between 2007 and 2008 the interview mode was switched from personal interviews to telephone interviews for some but not all participants. We combine methods from the program evaluation literature with methods from the distributional decomposition literature to obtain causal estimates of the effect of interview mode on estimated inequality. We find that the interview mode has a large effect on estimated inequality, where telephone interviews lead to a larger downward bias. The effect of the mode is much smaller for robust inequality measures such as interquantile ranges, as these are not sensitive to the tails of the distribution. The magnitude of effects we find are of a similar order as the differences in many international and intertemporal comparisons of inequality.


Income inequality Survey methodology Survey modes Distributional decompositions 


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We would like to thank Markus Knell and Alyssa Schneebaum for valuable comments and discussion. Additional to the usual disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the ones of the OeNB or the Eurosystem.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pirmin Fessler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maximilian Kasy
    • 2
  • Peter Lindner
    • 1
  1. 1.Economic Analysis DivisionOesterreichische NationalbankViennaAustria
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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