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Implementation of the Revised Relationship to Householder Item in the American Community Survey

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Working Paper Number SEHSD-WP2022-20

After more than a decade of research and an Office of Management and Budget (OMB)-led interagency working group, the American Community Survey (ACS) revised the relationship to householder item. This research led to three areas of improvement to address data quality and collection: additional categories in the relationship to householder item; an additional data validation step that checks for consistency between the reports of sex and relationship in data collection via electronic instruments; and updates to data processing for households where reported sex values do not align with the reported coupled relationship. All three of these changes were implemented in the 2019 ACS. The revised question had previously been implemented in the 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), the 2019 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC) and the 2020 decennial census.

Prior to these changes, researchers found that there was a small portion of people in opposite-sex coupled relationships who misreported their sex (as identified by an evaluation of their first name).

This resulted in some couples being misclassified as same-sex couples. However, because same-sex couple households are a relatively small proportion of all coupled households, this data error affected estimates of same-sex couple households. These changes were implemented to address these inconsistencies and improve estimates of same-sex couple households.

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