Inflation at the Household Level

Sam Schulhofer-Wohl, Senior Vice President and Director of Research

April 2016 | Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Working Paper 731 | With Greg Kaplan
We use scanner data to estimate inflation rates at the household level. Households’ inflation rates are remarkably heterogeneous, with an interquartile range of 6.2 to 9.0 percentage points on an annual basis. Most of the heterogeneity comes not from variation in broadly defined consumption bundles but from variation in prices paid for the same types of goods – a source of variation that previous research has not measured. The entire distribution of household inflation rates shifts in parallel with aggregate inflation. Deviations from aggregate inflation exhibit only slightly negative serial correlation within each household over time, implying that the difference between a household’s price level and the aggregate price level is persistent. Together, the large cross-sectional dispersion and low serial correlation of household-level inflation rates mean that almost all of the variability in a household’s inflation rate over time comes from variability in household-level prices relative to average prices for the same goods, not from variability in the aggregate inflation rate. We provide a characterization of the stochastic process for household inflation that can be used to calibrate models of household decisions.

Web Appendix
This appendix contains additional results on using scanner data to estimate inflation rates at the household level. There are three sections. Section 1 shows cross-sectional distributions of Fisher and Paasche inflation rates. Section 2 shows the evolution over time of measures of dispersion of Fisher and Paasche inflation rates. Section 3 shows cross-sectional distributions of two-year inflation rates measured with Fisher and Paasche indexes.