Measuring Worth Inflation and Progress in Financial Nicely-Being with Revenue-Dependent Preferences

How can we precisely measure modifications in dwelling requirements over time within the presence of worth inflation? On this put up, I focus on a novel and easy methodology that makes use of the cross-sectional relationship between revenue and household-level inflation to assemble correct measures of modifications in dwelling requirements that account for the dependence of consumption preferences on revenue. Making use of this technique to information from the U.S. suggests doubtlessly substantial mismeasurements in our out there proxies of common progress in client welfare within the U.S.

These insights and outcomes are based mostly on my latest analysis paper coauthored with Xavier Jaravel of the London Faculty of Economics, which is forthcoming on the Quarterly Journal of Economics.


Financial principle reveals that we are able to approximate modifications in dwelling requirements utilizing simple formulation often known as worth and amount indices. These indices mix noticed information on modifications within the portions of what we eat and the costs of these objects, and are extensively utilized by statistical workplaces around the globe to assemble measures of general inflation in the price of dwelling and progress in dwelling requirements. Nevertheless, this method hinges on an important assumption—that the composition of what we wish to purchase doesn’t shift when our incomes do (see, for instance, Diewert 1993). Sadly, this simplifying assumption, often known as homotheticity or revenue invariance, doesn’t match up with a bunch of real-world proof on the dependence of consumption patterns on client revenue, going way back to the work of Engel (1857). Latest proof on inflation inequality—the sturdy relationship between revenue and household-level measures of inflation—underscores the significance of this drawback.

Perception and Technique

A conceptually coherent method to measure dwelling requirements is to repair a set of costs and calculate the financial expenditure wanted, underneath these costs, to realize any degree of client welfare because it modifications over time. Allow us to discuss with this idea as actual consumption, to tell apart it from the nominal expenditure of the buyer underneath altering costs. As an illustration, contemplate a case the place all costs rise on the identical 2 p.c fee from one 12 months to the subsequent on account of common inflation. Right here, a client whose nominal expenditure has risen by 5 p.c solely experiences a 3 p.c improve in actual consumption, if we repair the costs within the preliminary or the ultimate 12 months. The important thing query is the way to calculate the corresponding measures of inflation and actual consumption progress in real-world settings through which modifications in costs range throughout completely different items and companies.

If client preferences are income-invariant, everybody consumes the identical basket of products and companies no matter their revenue degree. Over time, households regulate whether or not to eat kind of of every good or service based mostly on how its worth modifications relative to others, however these changes are the identical for everybody. Standard worth indices inform us the way to common these worth modifications utilizing the expenditure shares of various items and companies, and principle tells us we have to deflate the expansion in nominal expenditure based mostly on the worth of this common, which is the usual measure of inflation.

In actuality, households select completely different baskets of products and companies that systematically rely, amongst different issues, on their revenue. Subsequently, we discover completely different inflation measures for various households once we compute the value indices utilizing every family’s personal expenditure shares, one thing that ought to not occur underneath the standard assumption of revenue invariance. Within the information, we frequently discover decrease inflation measures for richer households, that means that costs rise extra slowly for luxuries—i.e., objects which can be extra closely bought by richer shoppers (see, for instance, Hobijn and Lagakos 2005, McGranahan and Paulson 2006, Jaravel 2019, Avtar et al. 2022, and Chakrabarti et al. 2023). Subsequently, this stuff have gotten comparatively cheaper than the others over time. This means that, if we repair the preliminary costs as our foundation for measuring actual consumption, households that have rising revenue will likely be shifting their consumption towards objects which can be accumulating relative worth declines. In different phrases, sustained inflation bias towards requirements—items and companies favored by poorer households—signifies that we want comparatively decrease charges of progress in nominal phrases to keep up the identical fee of progress in actual consumption. Thus, when revenue is rising, shoppers are literally higher off than that instructed by all out there measures of actual consumption. The traditional measures of inflation and actual consumption miss this mechanism altogether. That is even true of the newer work on inflation inequality, partially cited above, that depends on household-specific worth index formulation however doesn’t explicitly account for revenue dependence.

Because it seems, there’s a comparatively straightforward repair for this drawback. We will appropriate for the consequences of this revenue dependence in preferences just by estimating the connection between family revenue and household-specific worth indices. The slope of this relationship results in a correction issue that we have to apply to the nominal expenditure progress after it’s deflated by the family’s personal worth index. This technique is pretty straightforward to implement and solely requires entry to extensively out there surveys of consumption expenditure on the family degree. Furthermore, it may be generalized to increase to different family traits, similar to age, household dimension, and schooling, that (1) matter for the composition of their consumption expenditure, and (2) doubtlessly range over time on the family degree.

Utility to the U.S. Information

Within the paper, we apply our method to information from the US and quantify the magnitude of the bias in typical measures of actual consumption progress that ignore the consequences of revenue dependence in family preferences. We construct a brand new linked dataset offering worth modifications and expenditure shares at a granular degree from 1955 to 2019, throughout the completely different percentiles of family (pretax) revenue. This dataset combines a number of information sources, primarily drawing from disaggregated information collection out there from the Shopper Worth Index (CPI) and the Shopper Expenditure Survey (CEX). This new linked dataset permits us to supply proof on the inequality in inflation over a very long time horizon, thus extending prior estimates which have centered on shorter time collection.

Computing inflation utilizing income-percentile-specific worth index formulation, we discover that inflation inequality is a long-run phenomenon. As an illustration, because the chart under reveals, we discover that cumulative inflation from 1955 to 2019 varies considerably for households with completely different ranges of revenue: whereas costs have inflated by an element of round 10 for the underside revenue teams, they’ve inflated by an element nearer to eight on the high of the revenue distribution. The hole in inflation skilled by completely different revenue percentiles is sizable when in comparison with the general dimension of inflation over the interval. As such, once we look into the previous from the angle of immediately’s costs, we observe that (1) households had been on common poorer sixty-five years in the past—that’s, they’d stronger preferences for requirements; and (2) requirements had been cheaper relative to luxuries. These empirical patterns suggest that client welfare was greater sixty-five years in the past when accounting for the dependence of preferences on revenue. 

Inflation Inequality over the Lengthy Run

Liberty Street Economics line chart showing the cumulative inflation rate from 1995 to 2019 by pretax income percentiles.

Supply: Creator’s calculations based mostly on the historic linked CEX-CPI information.
Notes: This chart reveals the patterns of inflation inequality within the information. It reveals the cumulative inflation charges between 1955 and 2019 by pretax revenue percentiles.

Once we apply our new technique to this information, we discover that the magnitude of the correction in measured welfare progress as a result of impact of income-dependent preferences might be giant. For instance, as the chart under reveals, by fixing costs in 2019 as the premise of defining actual consumption, we discover that the uncorrected measure underestimates common actual consumption (per family) in 1955 by about 11.5 p.c. Be aware that, by definition, the error is zero within the base 12 months and accumulates over time as we transfer in time—on this case backward—away from the bottom 12 months. For comparability, we additionally present the outcomes if we repair costs in 1984. On this case, the bias is smaller just because it accumulates over a shorter time interval, as we transfer away from the bottom 12 months in our information.

Bias in Standard Measures of Common U.S. Actual Consumption (1955-2019)

Liberty Street Economics line chart comparing the biases in the level of average real consumption per household using conventional measures of real consumption against the new methodology, using 1984 and 2019 base prices for calculating real consumption.

Supply: Creator’s calculations based mostly on the historic linked CEX-CPI information.
Notes: This chart reviews the biases within the degree of common actual consumption per family in typical measures of actual consumption, in comparison towards the corrections implied by our technique, underneath two selections for the fastened costs as the bottom for calculation of actual consumption: costs in 1984 and in 2019.

In fact, bias in measuring the extent of actual consumption results in corresponding biases within the estimated progress. Because the chart above already signifies, if we repair costs in the newest 12 months (2019), the standard estimates overestimate the speed of progress in common actual consumption as a result of destructive bias within the ranges. Specifically, the uncorrected measure of cumulative actual consumption progress is 270 p.c over your complete 1955-2019 interval, or 2.07 p.c progress yearly. In distinction, with our correction for revenue dependence and underneath 2019 base costs, cumulative consumption progress falls to 232 p.c, or an annualized progress fee of 1.89 p.c per 12 months. Thus, on this case we discover that the annual progress fee from 1955 to 2019 is lowered by 18 foundation factors (2.07 p.c − 1.89 p.c).

Be aware that, because the typical measure all the time underestimates the degree of actual consumption, the signal of the error in measured progress of actual consumption relies on the selection of the bottom costs. As an illustration, if we as an alternative repair 1984 costs as our base, the chart reveals that the standard measures in reality underestimate the expansion in actual consumption between 1984 and 2019. In different phrases, since preferences are income-dependent, measured progress in actual consumption ought to in precept rely upon the selection of fastened costs to precise the measure.

Lastly, we additionally apply our generalized technique to quantify the adjustment to common actual consumption implied by client growing older in the US. On this case, we reconstruct our measures of inflation by deciles of age and revenue by, first, defining ten deciles of the (pretax) revenue and, then, computing ten age deciles inside every revenue decile. Utilizing this information, because the chart under illustrates, we doc a robust optimistic relationship between client age and inflation, which alters the measurement of actual consumption as a result of the common client age will increase over time. We discover that the implied changes to actual consumption are economically significant however a lot smaller than the correction on account of revenue dependence, which justifies our deal with the latter.  

Shopper Growing old and Actual Consumption (1955-2019)

A two-panel Liberty Street Economics line chart showing the relationship between consumer age and inflation. The left panel shows the cumulative inflation in the U.S. from 1955 to 2019 for each decile of age. The right panel shows the implied bias in the average level of real consumption per household in conventional measures of real consumption, when compared against the corrections implied by the new methodology that uses two fixed price choices—prices in 1984 and in 2019—as the basis for calculating real consumption.

Sources: Creator’s calculations based mostly on the historic linked CEX-CPI information.
Notes: The left panel of the chart reviews the cumulative inflation in the US, from 1955 to 2019, for every decile of age. The appropriate panel reviews the implied bias within the common degree of actual consumption per family in typical measures of actual consumption, in comparison towards the corrections implied by our technique on account of growing older, underneath two selections for the fastened costs as the bottom for calculation of actual consumption: costs in 1984 and in 2019.


Our outcomes could have necessary implications for the best way through which nationwide statistical businesses around the globe assemble measures of inflation and actual financial worth. Specifically, the empirical outcomes introduced above counsel an method that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) can use, based mostly on already out there information, to assemble improved measures of actual consumption progress and inequality within the U.S. Along with enhancing the measurement of long-run progress and inflation inequality, our new method can have necessary coverage implications, such because the indexation of the poverty line and a extra environment friendly focusing on of welfare advantages. This method additionally offers a blueprint for distributional nationwide accounts (Piketty et al. 2018) that account for inflation inequality and revenue dependence in family preferences.

photo of Danial Lashkari

Danial Lashkari is a analysis economist in Labor and Product Market Research within the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York’s Analysis and Statistics Group.

Easy methods to cite this put up:
Danial Lashkari, “Measuring Worth Inflation and Progress in Financial Nicely-Being with Revenue-Dependent Preferences,” Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York Liberty Avenue Economics, January 8, 2024,

The views expressed on this put up are these of the writer(s) and don’t essentially mirror the place of the Federal Reserve Financial institution of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the accountability of the writer(s).

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