The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data

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  • The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data

    The Nature of Econometrics

    and Economic Data


    hapter 1 discusses the scope of econometrics and raises general issues that arise

    in the application of econometric methods. Section 1.3 examines the kinds ofdata

    sets that are used in business, economics, and other social sciences. Section 1.4 provides

    an intuitive discussion of the difficulties associated with the inference of causality in the

    social sciences.

    1.1 What Is Econometrics?

    Imagine that you are hired by your state government to evaluate the effectiveness of a pub-

    licly funded job training program. Suppose this program teaches workers various ways to

    use computers in the manufacturing process. The twenty-week program offers courses dur-

    ing nonworking hours. Any hourly manufacturing worker may participate,and enrollment

    in all or part of the program is voluntary. You are to determine what,if any,effect the train-

    ing program has on each worker’s subsequent hourly wage.

    Now, suppose you work for an investment bank. You are to study the returns on dif-

    ferent investment strategies involving short-term U.S. treasury bills to decide whether they

    comply with implied economic theories.

    The task of answering such questions may seem daunting at first. At this point, you

    may only have a vague idea of the kind of data you would need to collect. By the end of

    this introductory econometrics course,you should know how to use econometric methods

    to formally evaluate a job training program or to test a simple economic theory.

    Econometrics is based upon the development of statistical methods for estimating

    economic relationships, testing economic theories, and evaluating and implementing

    government and business policy. The most common application of econometrics is the

    forecasting of such important macroeconomic variables as interest rates, inflation rates,

    and gross domestic product. Whereas forecasts of economic indicators are highly visible

    and often widely published,econometric methods can be used in economic areas that have

    nothing to do with macroeconomic forecasting. For example,we will study the effects of

    political campaign expenditures on voting outcomes. We will consider the effect of school

    spending on student performance in the field of education. In addition,we will learn how

    to use econometric methods for forecasting economic time series. 2 Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data

    Econometrics has evolved as a separate discipline from mathematical statistics

    because the former focuses on the problems inherent in collecting and analyzing

    nonexperimental economic data. nullxperimental data are not accumulated through

    controlled experiments on individuals, firms, or segments of the economy. (nullxperi-

    mental data are sometimes called observational data to emphasize the fact that the

    researcher is a passive collector of the data.) Experimental data are often collected in

    laboratory environments in the natural sciences, but they are much more difficult to

    obtain in the social sciences. Although some social experiments can be devised, it is

    often impossible,prohibitively expensive,or morally repugnant to conduct the kinds of

    controlled experiments that would be needed to address economic issues. We give some

    specific examples of the differences between experimental and nonexperimental data in

    Section 1.4.

    Naturally, econometricians have borrowed from mathematical statisticians whenever

    possible. The method of multiple regression analysis is the mainstay in both fields,but its

    focus and interpretation can differ markedly. In addition, economists have devised new

    techniques to deal with the complexities of economic data and to test the predictions of

    economic theories.

    1.2 Steps in Empirical Economic Analysis

    Econometric methods are relevant in virtually every branch of applied economics. They

    come into play either when we have an economic theory to test or when we have a

    relationship in mind that has some importance for business decisions or policy analysis.

    An empirical analysis uses data to test a theory or to estimate a relationship.

    How does one go about structuring an empirical economic analysis? It may seem obvi-

    ous, but it is worth emphasizing that the first step in any empirical analysis is the careful

    formulation of the question of interest. The question might deal with testing a certain aspect

    of an economic theory,or it might pertain to testing the effects of a government policy. In

    principle,econometric methods can be used to answer a wide range of questions.

    In some cases, especially those that involve the testing of economic theories, a for-

    mal economic modelis constructed. An economic model consists of mathematical equa-

    tions that describe various relationships. Economists are well known for their building of

    models to describe a vast array of behaviors. For example, in intermediate microeco-

    nomics, individual consumption decisions, subject to a budget constraint, are described

    by mathematical models. The basic premise underlying these models is utility maxi-

    mization. The assumption that individuals make choices to maximize their well-being,

    subject to resource constraints,gives us a very powerful framework for creating tractable

    economic models and making clear predictions. In the context of consumption decisions,

    utility maximization leads to a set of demand equations.In a demand equation,the quan-

    tity demanded of each commodity depends on the price of the goods, the price of

    substitute and complementary goods, the consumer’s income, and the individual’s

    characteristics that affect taste. These equations can form the basis of an econometric

    analysis of consumer demand. Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data 3

    Economists have used basic economic tools, such as the utility maximization frame-

    work, to explain behaviors that at first glance may appear to be noneconomic in nature.

    Aclassic example is Becker’s (1968) economic model of criminal behavior.

    E X A M P L E 1 . 1

    (Economic Model of Crime)

    In a seminal article, Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker postulated a utility maximization

    framework to describe an individual’s participation in crime. Certain crimes have clear

    economic rewards, but most criminal behaviors have costs. The opportunity costs of crime pre-

    vent the criminal from participating in other activities such as legal employment. In addition,

    there are costs associated with the possibility of being caught and then, if convicted, the costs

    associated with incarceration. From Becker’s perspective, the decision to undertake illegal activ-

    ity is one of resource allocation, with the benefits and costs of competing activities taken into


    Under general assumptions, we can derive an equation describing the amount of time spent

    in criminal activity as a function of various factors. We might represent such a function as

    y (cid:1)f(x ,x ,x ,x ,x ,x ,x ), (1.1)

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7


    y (cid:1) hours spent in criminal activities,

    x (cid:1) “wage” for an hour spent in criminal activity,


    x (cid:1) hourly wage in legal employment,


    x (cid:1) income other than from crime or employment,


    x (cid:1) probability of getting caught,


    x (cid:1) probability of being convicted if caught,


    x (cid:1) expected sentence if convicted, and


    x (cid:1) age.


    Other factors generally affect a person’s decision to participate in crime, but the list above is

    representative of what might result from a formal economic analysis. As is common in eco-

    nomic theory, we have not been specific about the function f((cid:2)) in (1.1). This function depends

    on an underlying utility function, which is rarely known. Nevertheless, we can use economic

    theory—or introspection—to predict the effect that each variable would have on criminal

    activity. This is the basis for an econometric analysis of individual criminal activity.

    Formal economic modeling is sometimes the starting point for empirical analysis,but

    it is more common to use economic theory less formally,or even to rely entirely on intu-

    ition. You may agree that the determinants of criminal behavior appearing in equation (1.1)

    are reasonable based on common sense; we might arrive at such an equation directly,with-

    out starting from utility maximization. This view has some merit,although there are cases

    in which formal derivations provide insights that intuition can overlook. 4 Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data

    Here is an example of an equation that was derived through somewhat informal


    E X A M P L E 1 . 2

    (Job Training and Worker Productivity)

    Consider the problem posed at the beginning of Section 1.1. A labor economist would like

    to examine the effects of job training on worker productivity. In this case, there is little need

    for formal economic theory. Basic economic understanding is sufficient for realizing that fac-

    tors such as education, experience, and training affect worker productivity. Also, economists

    are well aware that workers are paid commensurate with their productivity. This simple rea-

    soning leads to a model such as

    wage (cid:1)f(educ,exper,training), (1.2)

    where wage is hourly wage, educ is years of formal education, exper is years of workforce

    experience, and training is weeks spent in job training. Again, other factors generally affect

    the wage rate, but (1.2) captures the essence of the problem.

    After we specify an economic model, we need to turn it into what we call an econo-

    metric model. Because we will deal with econometric models throughout this text, it is

    important to know how an econometric model relates to an economic model. Take equa-

    tion (1.1) as an example. The form of the function f((cid:2)) must be specified before we can

    undertake an econometric analysis. A second issue concerning (1.1) is how to deal with

    variables that cannot reasonably be observed. For example,consider the wage that a per-

    son can earn in criminal activity. In principle,such a quantity is well defined,but it would

    be difficult if not impossible to observe this wage for a given individual. Even variables

    such as the probability of being arrested cannot realistically be obtained for a given indi-

    vidual, but at least we can observe relevant arrest statistics and derive a variable that

    approximates the probability of arrest. Many other factors affect criminal behavior that we

    cannot even list,let alone observe,but we must somehow account for them.

    The ambiguities inherent in the economic model of crime are resolved by specifying

    a particular econometric model:

    crime (cid:1)(cid:3)(cid:4)(cid:3)wage (cid:4)(cid:3)othinc (cid:4)(cid:3)freqarr (cid:4)(cid:3) freqconv

    0 1 m 2 3 4


    (cid:4)(cid:3)avgsen (cid:4)(cid:3)age (cid:4)u,

    5 6

    where crime is some measure of the frequency of criminal activity,wage is the wage that


    can be earned in legal employment,othinc is the income from other sources (assets,inher-

    itance,and so on),freqarr is the frequency of arrests for prior infractions (to approximate

    the probability of arrest),freqconv is the frequency of conviction,and avgsen is the aver-

    age sentence length after conviction. The choice of these variables is determined by the

    economic theory as well as data considerations. The term u contains unobserved factors, Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data 5

    such as the wage for criminal activity, moral character, family background, and errors in

    measuring things like criminal activity and the probability of arrest. We could add family

    background variables to the model,such as number of siblings,parents’education,and so

    on, but we can never eliminate u entirely. In fact, dealing with this error term or distur-

    bance termis perhaps the most important component of any econometric analysis.

    The constants (cid:3), (cid:3), …, (cid:3) are the parameters of the econometric model, and they

    0 1 6

    describe the directions and strengths of the relationship between crime and the factors used

    to determine crime in the model.

    A complete econometric model for Example 1.2 might be

    wage (cid:1)(cid:3)(cid:4)(cid:3)educ (cid:4)(cid:3)exper (cid:4)(cid:3)training (cid:4)u, (1.4)

    0 1 2 3

    where the term u contains factors such as “innate ability,”quality of education,family back-

    ground,and the myriad other factors that can influence a person’s wage. If we are specif-

    ically concerned about the effects of job training,then (cid:3) is the parameter of interest.


    For the most part, econometric analysis begins by specifying an econometric model,

    without consideration of the details of the model’s creation. We generally follow this

    approach, largely because careful derivation of something like the economic model of

    crime is time consuming and can take us into some specialized and often difficult areas

    of economic theory. Economic reasoning will play a role in our examples, and we will

    merge any underlying economic theory into the econometric model specification. In the

    economic model of crime example, we would start with an econometric model such as

    (1.3) and use economic reasoning and common sense as guides for choosing the variables.

    Although this approach loses some of the richness of economic analysis, it is commonly

    and effectively applied by careful researchers.

    Once an econometric model such as (1.3) or (1.4) has been specified, various

    hypotheses of interest can be stated in terms of the unknown parameters. For example,

    in equation (1.3),we might hypothesize that wage ,the wage that can be earned in legal


    employment,has no effect on criminal behavior. In the context of this particular econo-

    metric model, the hypothesis is equivalent to (cid:3) (cid:1) 0.


    An empirical analysis,by definition,requires data. After data on the relevant variables

    have been collected, econometric methods are used to estimate the parameters in the

    econometric model and to formally test hypotheses of interest. In some cases,the econo-

    metric model is used to make predictions in either the testing of a theory or the study of

    a policy’s impact.

    Because data collection is so important in empirical work, Section 1.3 will describe

    the kinds of data that we are likely to encounter.

    1.3 The Structure of Economic Data

    Economic data sets come in a variety of types. Whereas some econometric methods can

    be applied with little or no modification to many different kinds of data sets, the special

    features of some data sets must be accounted for or should be exploited. We next describe

    the most important data structures encountered in applied work. 6 Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data

    Cross-Sectional Data

    A cross-sectional data set consists of a sample of individuals, households, firms, cities,

    states,countries,or a variety of other units,taken at a given point in time. Sometimes,the

    data on all units do not correspond to precisely the same time period. For example,several

    families may be surveyed during different weeks within a year. In a pure cross-sectional

    analysis, we would ignore any minor timing differences in collecting the data. If a set of

    families was surveyed during different weeks of the same year, we would still view this

    as a cross-sectional data set.

    An important feature of cross-sectional data is that we can often assume that they have

    been obtained by random sampling from the underlying population. For example,if we

    obtain information on wages,education,experience,and other characteristics by randomly

    drawing 500 people from the working population, then we have a random sample from

    the population of all working people. Random sampling is the sampling scheme covered

    in introductory statistics courses, and it simplifies the analysis of cross-sectional data.

    Areview of random sampling is contained in Appendix C.

    Sometimes, random sampling is not appropriate as an assumption for analyzing

    cross-sectional data. For example, suppose we are interested in studying factors that

    influence the accumulation of family wealth. We could survey a random sample of

    families, but some families might refuse to report their wealth. If, for example, wealth-

    ier families are less likely to disclose their wealth, then the resulting sample on wealth

    is not a random sample from the population of all families. This is an illustration of a

    sample selection problem, an advanced topic that we will discuss in Chapter 17.

    Another violation of random sampling occurs when we sample from units that are

    large relative to the population, particularly geographical units. The potential problem in

    such cases is that the population is not large enough to reasonably assume the observa-

    tions are independent draws. For example, if we want to explain new business activity

    across states as a function of wage rates, energy prices, corporate and property tax rates,

    services provided, quality of the workforce, and other state characteristics, it is unlikely

    that business activities in states near one another are independent. It turns out that the

    econometric methods that we discuss do work in such situations,but they sometimes need

    to be refined. For the most part,we will ignore the intricacies that arise in analyzing such

    situations and treat these problems in a random sampling framework,even when it is not

    technically correct to do so.

    Cross-sectional data are widely used in economics and other social sciences. In

    economics, the analysis of cross-sectional data is closely aligned with the applied

    microeconomics fields,such as labor economics,state and local public finance,industrial

    organization, urban economics, demography, and health economics. Data on individu-

    als, households, firms, and cities at a given point in time are important for testing

    microeconomic hypotheses and evaluating economic policies.

    The cross-sectional data used for econometric analysis can be represented and stored

    in computers. Table 1.1 contains, in abbreviated form, a cross-sectional data set on 526

    working individuals for the year 1976. (This is a subset of the data in the file

    WAGE1.RAW.) The variables include wage (in dollars per hour), educ (years of educa-

    tion), exper (years of potential labor force experience), female (an indicator for gender),

    and married (marital status). These last two variables are binary (zero-one) in nature and Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data 7

    TABLE 1.1

    ACross-Sectional Data Set on Wages and Other Individual Characteristics

    obsno wage educ exper female married

    1 3.10 11 2 1 0

    2 3.24 12 22 1 1

    3 3.00 11 2 0 0

    4 6.00 8 44 0 1

    5 5.30 12 7 0 1

    (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2)

    (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2)

    (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2)

    525 11.56 16 5 0 1

    526 3.50 14 5 1 0

    serve to indicate qualitative features of the individual (the person is female or not; the

    person is married or not). We will have much to say about binary variables in Chapter 7

    and beyond.

    The variable obsno in Table 1.1 is the observation number assigned to each person in

    the sample. Unlike the other variables,it is not a characteristic of the individual. All econo-

    metrics and statistics software packages assign an observation number to each data unit.

    Intuition should tell you that, for data such as that in Table 1.1, it does not matter which

    person is labeled as observation 1, which person is called observation 2, and so on. The

    fact that the ordering of the data does not matter for econometric analysis is a key feature

    of cross-sectional data sets obtained from random sampling.

    Different variables sometimes correspond to different time periods in cross-

    sectional data sets. For example,in order to determine the effects of government policies

    on long-term economic growth,economists have studied the relationship between growth

    in real per capita gross domestic product (GDP) over a certain period (say,1960 to 1985)

    and variables determined in part by government policy in 1960 (government consumption

    as a percentage of GDP and adult secondary education rates). Such a data set might

    be represented as in Table 1.2, which constitutes part of the data set used in the study of

    cross-country growth rates by De Long and Summers (1991). 8 Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data

    TABLE 1.2

    AData Set on Economic Growth Rates and Country Characteristics

    obsno country gpcrgdp govcons60 second60

    1 Argentina 0.89 9 32

    2 Austria 3.32 16 50

    3 Belgium 2.56 13 69

    4 Bolivia 1.24 18 12

    (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2)

    (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2)

    (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2) (cid:2)

    61 Zimbabwe 2.30 17 6

    The variable gpcrgdp represents average growth in real per capita GDP over the period

    1960 to 1985. The fact that govcons60 (government consumption as a percentage of GDP)

    and second60 (percentage of adult population with a secondary education) correspond to

    the year 1960, while gpcrgdp is the average growth over the period from 1960 to 1985,

    does not lead to any special problems in treating this information as a cross-sectional data

    set. The observations are listed alphabetically by country,but nothing about this ordering

    affects any subsequent analysis.

    Time Series Data

    A time series dataset consists of observations on a variable or several variables over time.

    Examples of time series data include stock prices, money supply, consumer price index,

    gross domestic product, annual homicide rates, and automobile sales figures. Because

    past events can influence future events and lags in behavior are prevalent in the social

    sciences,time is an important dimension in a time series data set. Unlike the arrangement

    of cross-sectional data,the chronological ordering of observations in a time series conveys

    potentially important information.

    A key feature of time series data that makes them more difficult to analyze than cross-

    sectional data is the fact that economic observations can rarely,if ever,be assumed to be

    independent across time. Most economic and other time series are related,often strongly

    related,to their recent histories. For example,knowing something about the gross domes-

    tic product from last quarter tells us quite a bit about the likely range of the GDP during

    this quarter, because GDP tends to remain fairly stable from one quarter to the next.

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