Publication Date



An individual’s level of education and associated earnings profoundly influence spending patterns. Published Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) data shown average expenditures, income, and other consumer unit (CU) characteristics classified by education of the reference person. With the release of calendar year 2012 CE data on September 10, 2013, the education of reference person classification was replaced by the highest education level of any member in the consumer unit.

The major reason for this change is that the highest level of education attained by any household member more accurately reflects income and spending patterns than does the education level of the reference person only. For example, data from the Census Bureau show that the proportion of married couples where the wife is the more educated spouse increased during the 1996–2010 period. This means that the education level in families where the husband is designated as the reference person could be understated.

Table 1 shows selected characteristics, mean annual expenditures, and expenditure shares for consumer units classified by the highest level of education of any CU member, which is the new breakdown. Table 2 presents the same data classified by education of the reference person, which is the old breakdown. (Both tables show data for 2012.)


Suggested Citation
Foster, A. C. (2014). New education classification better reflects income and spending patterns in the Consumer Expenditure Survey. Beyond the Numbers (Vol. 3, No. 1). Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics.