
The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data
The Nature of Econometrics
and Economic Data
C
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 twentyweek 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 shortterm 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 wellbeing,
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
account.
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
where
y (cid:1) hours spent in criminal activities,
x (cid:1) “wage” for an hour spent in criminal activity,
1
x (cid:1) hourly wage in legal employment,
2
x (cid:1) income other than from crime or employment,
3
x (cid:1) probability of getting caught,
4
x (cid:1) probability of being convicted if caught,
5
x (cid:1) expected sentence if convicted, and
6
x (cid:1) age.
7
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
reasoning.
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
(1.3)
(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
m
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.
3
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
m
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.
1
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
CrossSectional Data
A crosssectional 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 crosssectional
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 crosssectional data set.
An important feature of crosssectional 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 crosssectional data.
Areview of random sampling is contained in Appendix C.
Sometimes, random sampling is not appropriate as an assumption for analyzing
crosssectional 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.
Crosssectional data are widely used in economics and other social sciences. In
economics, the analysis of crosssectional 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 crosssectional data used for econometric analysis can be represented and stored
in computers. Table 1.1 contains, in abbreviated form, a crosssectional 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 (zeroone) in nature and Chapter 1 The Nature of Econometrics and Economic Data 7
TABLE 1.1
ACrossSectional 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 crosssectional 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 longterm 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
crosscountry 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 crosssectional 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 crosssectional 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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