Social Indicators Research

, Volume 126, Issue 1, pp 119–140 | Cite as

Errors in Recalling Childhood Socio-economic Status: The Role of Anchoring and Household Formation in South Africa

  • Dieter von FintelEmail author
  • Dorrit Posel


In the absence of longitudinal data that track individuals over an extended period of time, information on childhood socio-economic status can be provided by questions that ask adults to recall their parents’ education or their economic status at childhood. The usefulness of these data, however, requires that people are willing to report this information, and that these reports do not vary systematically over time, for example in response to changes in current circumstances. In this paper, we evaluate recall data for South Africa, collected from the same adults in the first two waves of a national panel survey. We show that the data, particularly on father’s education, are compromised by very low and selective response, reflecting the fragmented nature of many South African families. Among those who do provide information, parental education is reported more consistently over time than the subjective appraisals of childhood economic status. However, we find also that both sets of indicators are sensitive to changes in current income, which would be consistent with anchoring effects. Furthermore changes in subjective appraisals of the past are highly correlated with changes in subjective appraisals of the present.


Retrospective data Socio-economic status Childhood reach Anchoring 



The authors thank an anonymous reviewer for very constructive comments received on the paper. Dorrit Posel acknowledges the Research Chairs Initiative of the South African Department of Science and Technology and South African National Research Foundation for funding her work as the Research Chair in Economic Development.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and Research on Socioeconomic Policy (ReSEP)Stellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa
  2. 2.Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA)BonnGermany
  3. 3.Development StudiesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

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