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The Survey of Consumer Finances: Collecting Sensitive Data from an Elite Population

*Catherine C Haggerty, NORC, University of Chicago 
Arthur Kennickell, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve 

Keywords: approaches to gaining cooperation, descriptive material, persuasive material, sensitive data, elusive respondents

The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), funded by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, is the only fully representative source of information on the broad financial circumstances of U.S. households; no other survey collects finance data from households using both an area probability sample and a list sample which includes an oversample of high income Americans. Data from the SCF are used to inform monetary policy, tax policy, consumer protection, and also serve as a basis for longer-term research on the economic state of the American family. These data are particularly sensitive and difficult to collect, however, in spite of reports of security breaches of financial and other data, and the steady decline in response rates, NORC has maintained high response rates since it began collecting these data in 1992. This paper describes the materials, processes, protocols and strategies NORC and the FRB have designed to help respondents make an informed decision about, and to ensure they participate in, the SCF. Our paper is valuable to those who seek to engage respondents in surveys that collect sensitive data or to ensure that elite populations are persuaded to participate.

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