Data and methods

Data, and the methods used to analyze them, are the foundation for evidence-based research. Articles in this subject area discuss the value of different types of data collection, and explain important statistical and econometric methods that provide ways to summarize and present information, and to identify and quantify correlation or causality.

  • Measuring individual risk preferences

    Incentivized measures are considered to be the gold standard in measuring individuals’ risk preferences, but is that correct?

    Catherine C. Eckel, June 2019
    Risk aversion is an important factor in many settings, including individual decisions about investment or occupational choice, and government choices about policies affecting environmental, industrial, or health risks. Risk preferences are measured using surveys or incentivized games with real consequences. Reviewing the different approaches to measuring individual risk aversion shows that the best approach will depend on the question being asked and the study's target population. In particular, economists’ gold standard of incentivized games may not be superior to surveys in all settings.
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  • Intergenerational income persistence Updated

    Measures of intergenerational persistence can be indicative of equality of opportunity, but the relationship is not clear-cut

    Jo Blanden, January 2019
    A strong association between incomes across generations—with children from poor families likely to be poor as adults—is frequently considered an indicator of insufficient equality of opportunity. Studies of such “intergenerational persistence,” or lack of intergenerational mobility, measure the strength of the relationship between parents’ socio-economic status and that of their children as adults. However, the association between equality of opportunity and common measures of intergenerational persistence is not as clear-cut as is often assumed. To aid interpretation researchers often compare measures across time and space but must recognize that reliable measurement requires overcoming important data and methodological difficulties.
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  • Do workers work more when earnings are high?

    Studies of independent contractors suggest that workers’ effort may be more responsive to wage incentives than previously thought

    Tess M. Stafford, November 2018
    A fundamental question in economic policy is how labor supply responds to changes in remuneration. The responsiveness of labor supply determines the size of the employment impact and efficiency loss of progressive income taxation. It also affects predictions about the impacts of policies ranging from fiscal responses to business cycles to government transfer programs. The characteristics of jobs held by independent contractors provide an opportunity to overcome problems faced by earlier studies and help answer this fundamental question.
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  • Big Data in economics

    New sources of data create challenges that may require new skills

    Big Data refers to data sets of much larger size, higher frequency, and often more personalized information. Examples include data collected by smart sensors in homes or aggregation of tweets on Twitter. In small data sets, traditional econometric methods tend to outperform more complex techniques. In large data sets, however, machine learning methods shine. New analytic approaches are needed to make the most of Big Data in economics. Researchers and policymakers should thus pay close attention to recent developments in machine learning techniques if they want to fully take advantage of these new sources of Big Data.
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  • Measuring employment and unemployment

    Should statistical criteria for measuring employment and unemployment be re-examined?

    Measuring employment and unemployment is essential for economic policy. Internationally agreed measures (e.g. headcount employment and unemployment rates based on standard definitions) enhance comparability across time and space, but changes in real labor markets and policy agendas challenge these traditional conventions. Boundaries between different labor market states are blurred, complicating identification. Individual experiences in each state may vary considerably, highlighting the importance of how each employed or unemployed person is weighted in statistical indices.
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  • Defining informality vs mitigating its negative effects

    More important than defining and measuring informality is focusing on reducing its detrimental consequences

    There are more informal workers than formal workers across the globe, and yet there remains confusion as to what makes workers or firms informal and how to measure the extent of it. Informal work and informal economic activities imply large efficiency and welfare losses, in terms of low productivity, low earnings, sub-standard working conditions, and lack of social insurance coverage. Rather than quibbling over definitions and measures of informality, it is crucial for policymakers to address these correlates of informality in order to mitigate the negative efficiency and welfare effects.
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  • The usefulness of experiments

    Are experiments the gold standard or just over-hyped?

    Jeffrey A. Smith, May 2018
    Non-experimental evaluations of programs compare individuals who choose to participate in a program to individuals who do not. Such comparisons run the risk of conflating non-random selection into the program with its causal effects. By randomly assigning individuals to participate in the program or not, experimental evaluations remove the potential for non-random selection to bias comparisons of participants and non-participants. In so doing, they provide compelling causal evidence of program effects. At the same time, experiments are not a panacea, and require careful design and interpretation.
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  • The labor market in Israel, 2000–2016

    Unlike most OECD countries, Israel experienced a major increase in both employment and participation rates over the last 15 years

    Tali LaromOsnat Lifshitz, January 2018
    Following a decline in employment and participation rates during the 1980s and 1990s, Israel managed to reverse these trends during the last 15 years. This was accompanied by a substantial decrease in unemployment. New labor force participants are mostly from the low end of the education distribution, and many are relatively old. They entered the labor force in response to cuts in welfare payments and increases in the mandatory retirement age. Net household income for all population groups has increased due to growth in labor income; however, inequality between households has increased.
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  • Replication in labor economics

    Is there a reproducibility crisis in labor economics?

    W. Robert Reed, December 2017
    There is growing concern that much of the empirical research in labor economics and other applied areas may not be reproducible. Correspondingly, recent years have seen an increase in replication studies published in economics journals. Despite this increase, there are many unresolved issues about how replications should be done, and how to interpret their results. Replications have demonstrated a potential for clarifying the reliability and robustness of previous research. Much can be done to encourage more replication research, and to exploit the scientific value of existing replication studies.
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  • What is the role for molecular genetic data in public policy?

    There is potential value from incorporating genetic data in the design of effective public policy, but also some risks

    Both the availability and sheer volume of data sets containing individual molecular genetic information are growing at a rapid pace. Many argue that these data can facilitate the identification of genes underlying important socio-economic outcomes, such as educational attainment and fertility. Opponents often counter that the benefits are as yet unclear, and that the threat to individual privacy is a serious one. The initial exploration presented herein suggests that significant benefits to the understanding of socio-economic outcomes and the design of both social and education policy may be gained by effectively and safely utilizing genetic data.
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