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News Release Information

Thursday, January 11, 2018


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Consumer Expenditures for the Boston Metropolitan Area: 2015-16

Consumer units in the Boston-Cambridge-Newton metropolitan area spent an average of $68,119 per year in 2015-16, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Regional Commissioner Deborah A. Brown, noted that this figure was over 20 percent above the $56,648 average expenditure level for a typical household in the United States. Not only did households in the Boston area spend more than the U.S. average, they also allocated their dollars differently than the nation in 4 of the 8 major expenditure categories. For example, expenditures for housing accounted for 39.2 percent of a household budget in Boston, significantly more than the 32.9 percent national average. (See chart 1 and table 1.) 

Highlights of the Boston area’s 2015–16 spending patterns:

  • Housing: This was the largest expenditure category for Boston-area households and averaged $26,671. Housing accounted for 39.2 percent of the area’s household budget, significantly higher than the 32.9-percent U.S. average. (See table 1.) Housing expenditures shares among the published 22 metropolitan areas for which data were available ranged from 40.3 percent in San Francisco to 30.3 percent in Detroit. (See table 2.)
  • Transportation: Boston-area households spent 12.4 percent of their budgets on transportation, significantly below the national average of 16.4 percent. Of the $8,465 in annual transportation expenditures in Boston, 87.8 percent was spent buying and maintaining private vehicles compared to the national average of 93.1 percent.
  • Food: The portion of a Boston household’s budget spent on food, 11.2 percent, was significantly below the 12.6-percent U.S. average. Boston-area households spent $4,702, or 61.6 percent, of their food dollars on food at home and $2,934 (38.4 percent) on food away from home. In comparison, the average U.S. household spent 56.7 percent of its food budget on food at home and 43.3 percent on food away from home.

Additional Information

Data in this release are from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE), which the U.S. Census Bureau conducts for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data in this release were averaged over a 2-year period, 2015 and 2016.

A household in the CE survey is defined as a consumer unit which includes families; single persons living alone or sharing a household with others but who are financially independent; or two or more persons living together who share expenses. The terms household or consumer unit are used interchangeably for convenience.

Differences in spending among metropolitan areas may reflect differences in the cost of living, but they also may reflect other causes. Spending differences may result from different consumer preferences or variations in demographic characteristics, such as household size, age, or income levels. However, expenditure shares, or the percentage of a household’s budget spent on a particular category, can be used to compare spending patterns across areas. Sample sizes for the metropolitan areas are much smaller than for the nation, so the U.S. estimates and year-to-year changes are more reliable than those for the metropolitan areas. Users should also keep in mind that prices for many goods and services have changed since the survey was conducted.

A value that is statistically different from another does not necessarily mean that the difference has economic or practical significance. Statistical significance is concerned with our ability to make confident statements about a universe based on a sample. A large difference between two values may not be statistically significant, while a small difference could be significant; both the sample size and the variation among the values in the sample affect the relative error of the estimates.

For additional technical and related information, see Data for the nation, the four geographic regions of the U.S., and 22 metropolitan areas nationwide are available at Metropolitan definitions used in the survey are available at The metropolitan area discussed in this release is Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H., which is comprised of Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk Counties in Massachusetts, and Rockingham and Strafford Counties in New Hampshire. Metropolitan area news releases for the Consumer Expenditure Survey are available at

Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: 202-691-5200; Federal Relay Service: 800-877-8339.

Table 1. Average annual expenditures, characteristics, and percent distributions, United States and Boston metropolitan area, 2015–16
Category United

Consumer unit characteristics:


Income before taxes

$72,156 $91,781

Age of reference person

50.7 49.4

Average number in consumer unit:



2.5 2.2

Children under 18

0.6 0.5

Adults 65 and over

0.4 0.4


1.3 1.3


1.9 1.4

Percent homeowner

62 54

Average annual expenditures

$56,648 $68,119*

Percent distribution



100.0 100.0


12.6 11.2*

Alcoholic beverages

0.9 1.0


32.9 39.2*

Apparel and services

3.2 2.6


16.4 12.4*


7.9 6.4*


5.1 5.1

Personal care products and services

1.2 1.1


0.2 0.2


2.3 2.6

Tobacco products and smoking supplies

0.6 0.4*


1.6 1.6

Cash contributions

3.4 3.9

Personal insurance and pensions

11.6 12.1

Note: An asterisk (*) represents a statistically significant difference from the U.S. average at the 95-percent confidence level.

Table 2. Percent share of average annual expenditures for housing, transportation, and food, United States and 22 metropolitan areas, 2015–16
Area Housing Transportation Food

United States

32.9 16.4 12.6


31.7 19.1 11.8


34.1 18.3 10.2*


34.5 16.6 12.1


39.2* 12.4* 11.2*


35.2* 14.5* 13.2

Dallas-Fort Worth

34.2 16.0 11.9


32.9 16.5 11.3*


30.3* 16.4 12.9


36.3* 14.2 15.4*


31.8 21.0* 14.2*

Los Angeles

36.2* 15.6 12.4


36.4* 14.8 12.3

Minneapolis-St. Paul

30.9 15.4 11.0*

New York

38.8* 11.4* 10.7*


33.8 14.4* 11.7


32.2 15.1 12.1

San Diego

35.1* 13.7* 11.4

San Francisco

40.3* 11.9* 11.5


33.4 13.4* 13.6

St. Louis

31.7 16.1 13.2


33.7 17.7 12.6

Washington, D.C.

35.7* 12.8* 10.8*

Note: An asterisk (*) represents a statistically significant difference from the U.S. average at the 95-percent confidence level.


Last Modified Date: Thursday, January 11, 2018