How to identify head of household from PUMS files?

Hi all, 

I'm using the ACS 1-year PUMS files (2018) and am trying to determine how I can determine whether a respondent is head of household. I saw that on IPUMS there is the RELATE variable and the source variable for RELATE is the RELP variable. With RELP, does "reference person" refer to head of household? That's what IPUMS seems to imply but I'm not sure if I'm understanding that incorrectly. 

If someone would help me out, I'd greatly appreciate it!

Thank you!

  • Hi dcrubi-- 

    Looking at a Census questionnaire, instructions for completion say the head of household should complete the questionnaire (either person of a married couple is fine) and be Person #1. 

    Also from the ACS Design and Methodology documentation, p 67:
    "Usually this is the person, or one of the people, in whose name the home is owned, being bought, or rented, and who is listed as ‘Person 1’ on the survey questionnaire. If there is no such person in the household, any adult household member 15 and older can be designated."
    I am wondering now why the documentation says "Usually"... does Census ever recode and reorder the persons listed on an ACS questionnaire?  But I see no mention that Census does this. So really it comes down to survey respondents following directions -- and us data users trusting that we can consider Person #1 to be the head of the household.
    Person #1 is the reference person (or RELP=00 in the Census PUMS).  All other RELP codes describe other people's relationship to Person #1.
  • In the National Crime Victimization Survey -- which is fielded by the Census Bureau -- the "Reference Person" replaces what was once referred to as the "head of the household."   There is also a "Principal Person" which is the person who completes the portion of the survey pertaining to the household.  In practice, in a married female-male couple, the male partner is considered the "reference person" while the female partner is the "principal person."

    From p. 593 of the 2016 NCVS codebook available on ICPSR: "REFERENCE PERSON: The person identified by the household respondent as owning, buying, or renting the living quarters. This person will generally be at least 18 years of age or older; however, if no one in the household is 18 years of age, the interviewer will choose the person who is identified as owning or renting the living quarters. The reference person replaces the former concept of "head of household" and is not necessarily the same as the household respondent or principal person."

    From p. 590 of the 2016 NCVS codebook available on ICPSR: "PRINCIPAL PERSON: In husband/wife living arrangements, this person is the wife. In non-husband/wife living arrangements, this person is the reference person. The principal person's demographic characteristics are used in forming the household weight."

    From p. 573 of the 2016 NCVS codebook available on ICPSR: "HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD: Prior to 1979, one person in each household was designated as "head," usually the person reported by the members of the household to be the head. Beginning in 1979 a non-head of household approach was instituted and interviewers were instead instructed to designate a "reference person" -- the household member who owns, is buying, or is renting the housing unit. The reference person may be any one household member 18 years of age or older -- usually the first person listed in the household membership. If all household members are under 18, the interviewer will choose the person identified as owning or renting the living quarters."

  • Seconding what others have said and adding a bit of context: Decennial Census (and ACS) haven't used the "head of household" terminology since 1980. In that year, to address concerns about gender bias and to better reflect the wide variety of living arrangements, terms switched to "Person 1" (or reference person.)

    If you'd like some history on the subject and who responds as Person 1 there are some interesting readings:

    Nancy Folbre and Marjorie Abel (1989), "Women's Work and Women's Households: Gender Bias in the U.S. Census" 
    Theresa J. DeMaio and Nancy A. Bates (1992), “Who Fills Out the Census Form,”