Assessing Expenditures on Children in Low-Income, Ethnically Diverse and Immigrant Families.

October 2006

Julieta Lugo-Gil, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Harvard University

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We present evidence from qualitative and survey data on expenditures on children, collected on samples of low-income Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Chinese, and African American families. Qualitative data suggested the need to modify survey approaches to assessing child-specific investments in lowerincome, ethnically diverse and immigrant U.S. families. We develop a survey instrument of expenditures on children that addresses several points from the qualitative findings. First, we introduce measures of child-specific expenditures in a wider range of categories. Second, we account for expenditures on children paid for by people outside the sampled household. Third, we consider access to consumption of goods and services through agencies and programs. Fourth, we adjust the time frame of questions so as to encourage response precision. Fifth, we consider definitions of household that may be more appropriate to lower-income and/or ethnically diverse families. Finally, we ask respondents to estimate the value of inkind contributions from family or friends. Although expenditure surveys do not measure consumption directly, the measures we propose show promise in improving assessment of expenditures in ethnically diverse and immigrant families and allow for a clearer distinction between expenditures on and consumption of the children in these families.

Immigration, Race and Ethnicity, Research Methods