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Analyses with Unit Fixed Effects

Date: 24.08.2006

Version: tirc_80

University of Essex

Department of Government

Wivenhoe Park

Colchester CO4 3SQ

UK

contact: tpluem@essex.ac.uk, vtroe@essex.ac.uk

Abstract:

Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at the 21st Polmeth conference at Stanford University, Palo Alto, 29.-31. July 2004, the 2005 MPSA conference in Chicago, 7.-10. April and the APSA annual conference 2005 in Washington, 1.-4. September 2005. We thank the editor and the referees of Political

Analysis and Neal Beck, Greg Wawro, Donald Green, Jay Goodliffe, Rodrigo

Alfaro, Rob Franzese, Jrg Breitung and Patrick Brandt for helpful comments

on previous drafts. The usual disclaimer applies.

Changing Variables in Finite Sample Panel

Analyses with Unit Fixed Effects

time-invariant and rarely changing variables in panel data models with uniteffects. The first stage of the proposed estimator runs a fixed-effects model to

obtain the unit effects, the second stage breaks down the unit-effects into a part

explained by the time-invariant and/or rarely changing variables and an error

term, and the third stage re-estimates the first stage by pooled-OLS (with or

without autocorrelation correction and with or without panel-corrected standard

errors) including the time invariant variables plus the error term of stage 2,

which then accounts for the unexplained part of the unit effects. Since the

estimator decomposes the unit effects into an explained and an unexplained

part, we call it fixed effects vector decomposition (fevd).

We use Monte Carlo simulations to compare the finite sample properties of our

estimator to the finite sample properties of competing estimators. Specifically,

we set the vector decomposition technique against the random effects model,

pooled OLS and the Hausman-Taylor procedure when estimating time-invariant

variables and juxtapose fevd, the random effects model, pooled OLS, and the

fixed effects model when estimating rarely changing variables. In doing so, we

demonstrate that our proposed technique provides the most reliable estimates

under a wide variety of specifications common to real world data.

1.

Introduction

The analysis of panel data has important advantages over pure time-series or

cross-sectional estimates advantages that may easily justify the extra costs of

collecting information in both the cross-sectional and the longitudinal dimension. Many applied researchers rank the ability to deal with unobserved heterogeneity across units most prominently. They pool data just for the purpose of

3

controlling for the potentially large number of unmeasured explanatory variables by estimating a fixed effects (FE) model.

Yet, these clear advantages of the fixed effects model come at a certain price.

One of its drawbacks, the problem of estimating time-invariant variables in

panel data analyses with unit effects, has widely been recognized: Since the FE

model uses only the within variance for the estimation and disregards the

between variance, it does not allow the estimation of time-invariant variables

(Baltagi 2001, Hsiao 2003, Wooldridge 2002). A second drawback of the FE

model (and by far the less recognized one) is its inefficiency in estimating the

effect of variables that have very little within variance. Typical examples in

political science include institutions, but political scientists have used numerous

variables that show much more variation across units than over time. An

inefficient estimation is not merely a nuisance leading to somewhat higher

standard errors. Inefficiency leads to highly unreliable point estimates and may

thus cause wrong inferences in the same way a biased estimator could. Therefore, the inefficiency of the FE model in estimating variables with low within

variance needs to be taken seriously.

This article discusses a remedy to the related problems of estimating timeinvariant and rarely changing variables in fixed effects model with unit effects.

We suggest an alternative estimator that allows estimating time-invariant

variables and that is more efficient than the FE model in estimating variables

that have very little longitudinal variance. We call this superior alternative

fixed effects vector decomposition (fevd) model, because the estimator decomposes the unit fixed effects in an unexplained part and a part explained by the

time-invariant or the rarely changing variables. The fixed effects vector

decomposition technique involves the following three steps: First, estimation of

the unit fixed effects by the baseline panel fixed effects model excluding the

time-invariant but not the rarely changing right hand side variables. Second,

regression of the fixed effects vector on the time invariant and/or rarely

changing explanatory variables of the original model (by OLS) to decompose

the unit specific effects into a part explained by the time invariant variables and

an unexplained part. And third, estimation of a pooled OLS model by including

all explanatory time-variant variables, the time-invariant variables, the rarely

changing variables and the unexplained part of the fixed effects vector. This

4

stage is required to control for multicollinearity and to adjust the degrees of

freedom in estimating the standard errors of the coefficients.1

Based on Monte Carlo simulations we demonstrate that the vector decomposition model has better finite sample properties in estimating models that include

either time-invariant or almost time-invariant variables correlated with unit

effects than competing estimators. In the analyses dealing with the estimation of

time-invariant variables, we compare the vector decomposition model to the

fixed effects model, the random effects model, pooled OLS and the HausmanTaylor model. We find that while the fixed effects model does not compute

coefficients for the time-invariant variables, the vector decomposition model

performs far better than pooled OLS, random effects and the Hausman-Taylor

procedure if both time-invariant and time-varying variables are correlated with

the unit effects.

The analysis of the rarely changing variables takes these results one step

further. Again based on Monte Carlo simulations, we show that the vector

decomposition method is more efficient than the fixed effects model2 and thus

gives more reliable estimates than the fixed effects model under a wide variety

of constellations. Specifically, we find that the vector decomposition model is

superior to the fixed effects model when the ratio between the between variance

and the within variance is large, when the overall R is low, and when the

correlation between the rarely changing / time-invariant variable and the unit

effects (i.e. the higher the effectively used between variance) is low. These

advantages of the fevd model equally apply to both cross-sectional and timeseries dominant panel data. What matters for the estimation problem provided

by time-invariant and rarely changing variables is not so much whether the

data set at hand includes more cases or periods, but whether the between variation exceeds the within variation by a certain threshold.

The procedure we suggest is superficially similar to that suggested by Hsiao (2003: 52).

However, Hsiao only claims that his estimate for time-invariant variables ( ) is consistent

as N approaches infinity. We are interested in the small sample properties of our estimator

and thus explore time-series cross sectional (TSCS) data. Hsiao (correctly) notes that his

is inconsistent for TSCS. Moreover, he does not provide standard errors for his estimate

of , nor does he compare his estimator to others. Since we fully develop our estimator, we

do not further consider Hsiao's brief discussion.

We also ran all simulations on rarely changing variables for the random effects model and

pooled OLS. Unless the time-varying variables are uncorrelated with the unit effects, the

vector decomposition model performs strictly better than both competitors. For the sake of

clarity and simplicity, we do not report simulation output for pooled OLS and the RE model

in the section dealing with rarely changing variables.

5

In a substantive perspective, this article contributes to an ongoing debate about

the pros and cons of fixed effects models (Green et al. 2001, Beck/ Katz 2001;

Plmper et al. 2005; Wilson/ Butler 2003; Beck 2001). While the various parties in the debate put forward many reasons for and against fixed effects

models, this paper analyzes the conditions under which the fixed effects model is

inferior to alternative estimation procedures. Most importantly, it suggests a

superior alternative for the cases in which the FE models inefficiency impedes

reliable point estimates.

We proceed as follows: In section 2 we illustrate the estimation problem and

discuss how applied researchers dealt with it. In section 3, we describe the

econometrics of the fixed effects vector decomposition procedure in detail.

Section 4 explains the setup of the Monte Carlo experiments. Section 5 analyzes

the finite sample properties of the proposed fevd procedure relative to the fixed

effects and the random effects model, the pooled OLS estimator, and the

Hausman-Taylor procedure in estimating time-invariant variables and section 6

presents MC analyses for rarely changing variables in which we without loss of

generality compare only the fixed effects model to the vector decomposition

model. Section 7 concludes.

2.

The first category subsumes variables that are time-invariant by definition.

Often, these variables measure geography or inheritance. Switzerland and Hungary are both landlocked countries, they are both located in Central Europe,

and there is little nature and (hopefully) politics will do about it for the

foreseeable future. Along similar lines, a country may or may not have a

colonial heritage or a climate prone to tropical diseases.

The second category covers variables that are time-invariant for the period

under analysis or because of researchers selection of cases. For instance,

constitutions in postwar OECD countries have proven to be highly durable.

Switzerland is a democracy since 1291 and the US maintained a presidential

system since Independence Day. Yet, by increasing the number of periods

and/or the number of cases it would be possible to render these variables timevariant.

A small change in the sample can turn time-invariant variables of the second

category into a variable with very low within variation an almost time-

6

invariant or rarely changing variable. The level of democracy, the status of the

president, electoral rules, central bank autonomy, or federalism to mention

just a few do not change often even in relatively long pooled time-series

datasets. Other politically relevant variables, such as the size of the minimum

winning coalition, and the number of veto-players change more frequently, but

the within variance, the variance over time, typically falls short of the between

variance, the variance across units. The same may hold true for some macroeconomic aggregates. Indeed, government spending, social welfare, tax rates,

pollution levels, or per capita income change from year to year, but panels of

these variables can still be dominantly cross-sectional.

Unfortunately, the problem of rarely changing variables in panel data with unit

effects remained by-and-large unobserved.3 Since the fixed effects model can

compute a coefficient if regressors are almost time-invariant, it seems fair to say

that most applied researchers have accepted the resulting inefficiency of the

estimate without paying too much attention. Yet, as Nathaniel Beck has

unmistakably formulated: () although we can estimate () with slowly

changing independent variables, the fixed effect will soak up most of the

explanatory power of these slowly changing variables. Thus, if a variable ()

changes over time, but slowly, the fixed effects will make it hard for such

variables to appear either substantively or statistically significant. (Beck 2001:

285) Perhaps even more importantly, inefficiency does not just imply low levels

of significance; point estimates are also unreliable since the influence of the error

on the estimated coefficients becomes larger as the inefficiency of the estimator

increases.

In comparison, by far more attention was devoted to the problem of timeinvariant variables. With the fixed effects model not computing coefficients for

time-invariant variables, most applied researchers apparently estimated empirical models that include time-invariant variables by random effects models or by

pooled-OLS (see for example Elbadawi/ Sambanis 2002; Acemoglu et al. 2002;

Knack 1993; Huber/ Stephens 2001). Daron Acemoglu et al. (2002) justify not

controlling for unit effects by stating the following: Recall that our interest is

in the historically-determined component of institutions (that is more clearly

exogenous), hence not in the variations in institutions from year-to-year. As a

3

None of the three main textbooks on panel data analysis (Baltagi 2001, Hsiao 2003,

Wooldridge 2002) refers explicitly to the inefficiency of estimating rarely changing variables

in a fixed effects approach.

7

result, this regression does not (cannot) control for a full set of country

dummies. (Acemoglu et al. 2002: 27)

Clearly, both the random effects model and pooled-OLS are inconsistent and

biased when regressors are correlated with the unit effects. Employing these

models trades the ability to compute estimates of time-invariant variables for

the unbiased estimation of time-varying variables. Thus, they may be a secondbest solution if researchers are solely interested in the coefficients of the timeinvariant variables.

In contrast, econometric textbooks typically recommend the Hausman-Taylor

procedure for panel data with time-invariant variables and correlated unit

effects (Hausman/ Taylor 1981; see Wooldridge 2002: 325-328; Hsiao 2003: 53).

The idea of the estimator is to overcome the bias of the random effects model in

the presence of correlated unit effects and the solution is standard: If a variable

is endogenous use appropriate instruments. In brief, this procedure estimates a

random effects model and uses exogenous time-varying variables as instruments

for the endogenous time-varying variables and exogenous time-invariant

variables plus the unit means of the exogenous time varying variables as

instruments for the endogenous time-invariant variables (textbook characterizations of the Hausman-Taylor model can be found in Wooldridge 2002, pp. 22528 and Hsiao 2003, pp. 53ff). In an econometric perspective, the procedure is a

consistent solution to the potentially severe problem of correlation between unit

effects and time-invariant variables. Unfortunately, the procedure can only work

well if the instruments are uncorrelated with the errors and the unit effects and

highly correlated with the endogenous regressors. Identifying those instruments

is a formidable task especially since the unit effects are unobserved (and often

unobservable). Nevertheless, the Hausman-Taylor estimator has recently gained

in popularity at least among economists (Egger/ Pfaffermayr 2004).

3.

Recall the data-generating process of a fixed effects model with time invariant

variables:

K

k =1

m =1

yi t = + k x k i t + m z mi + u i + i t .

(1)

8

where the x-variables are time-varying and the z-variables are assumed to be

time-invariant.4 ui denotes the unit specific effects (fixed effects) of the data

generating process and it is the iid error term, and are the parameters to

estimate.

In the first stage, the fixed effects vector decomposition procedure estimates a

standard fixed effects model. The fixed effects transformation can be obtained

by first averaging equation (1) over T:

K

k =1

m =1

yi = k x k i + m z mi + ei + u i

(2)

where

yi =

1 T

1 T

1 T

yi t , x i = x i t , ei = ei t

T t =1

T t =1

T t =1

and e stands for the residual of the estimated model. Then equation 2 is

subtracted from equation 1. As is well known, this transformation removes the

individual effects u i and the time-invariant variables z. We get

K

yi t yi = k x k i t x k i + m ( z mi z mi ) + ei t e + ( u i u i )

k =1

m =1

(3)

k =1

variables of the fixed effects transformation. We run this fixed effects model

with the sole intention to obtain estimates of the unit effects u i . At this point,

it is important to note that the estimated unit effects u i do not equal the unit

effects u i in the data generating process since estimated unit effects include all

time invariant variables the overall constant term and the mean effects of the

time-varying variables x. Equation 4 explains how the unit effects are computed

and what explanatory variables account for these unit effects

K

u i = yi kFE x ki ei

(4)

k =1

where FE

is the pooled OLS estimate of the demeaned model in equation 3.

k

The u i include the unobserved unit specific effects as well as the observed unit

specific effects z, the unit means of the residuals ei and the time-varying

variables x ki , whereas u i only account for unobservable unit specific effects. In

4

In section 5 we assume that one z-variable is rarely changing and thus only almost timeinvariant.

9

stage 2 we regress the unit effects u i from stage 1 on the observed timeinvariant and rarely changing variables the z-variables (see equation 5) to

obtain the unexplained part h i (which is the residual from regression the unit

specific effect on the z-variables). In other words, we decompose the estimated

unit effects into two parts, an explained and an unexplained part that we dub

hi :

M

u i = m z mi + h i

(5)

m =1

5:

M

h i = u i - m z mi

(6)

m =1

As we said above, this crucial stage decomposes the unit effects into an

unexplained part and a part explained by the time-invariant variables. We are

solely interested in the unexplained part h i .

In stage 3 we re-run the full model without the unit effects but including the

unexplained part h i of the decomposed unit fixed effect vector obtained in stage

2. This stage is estimated by pooled OLS.

K

k =1

m =1

yi t = + k x k i t + m z mi + h i + i t .

(7)

The estimation of stage 3 is necessary for various corrections. Perhaps most

importantly, we use correct degrees of freedom in calculating the standard

errors of the coefficients and . Even though the third stage is estimated as a

pooled OLS model the procedure is based on a fixed effects setup that has to be

mirrored by the computation of the standard errors for both the time-varying

and time-invariant variables. Correct in contrast to the second stage in the

Hsiao procedure here means therefore that we use a fixed effects demeaned

variance-covariance matrix for the estimation of the standard errors of k and

we also employ the right number of degrees of freedom for the computation of

all standard errors (the number of coefficients to be estimated plus the number

of unit specific effects).

The fevd estimator thus gives standard errors which deviate from the pooled

OLS standard errors since we reduce the OLS degrees of freedom by the number

10

of units (N-1) to account for the number of estimated unit effects in stage 1.

The deviation of fevd standard errors from pooled OLS standard errors of the

same model increases in N and decreases in T. Not correcting the degrees of

freedom leads to a potentially serious underestimation of standard errors and

overconfidence in the results. In adjusting the standard errors we explicitly

control for the specific characteristics of the three step approach.

Estimating the model requires that heteroscedasticity and serial correlation

must be eliminated. If the structure of the data at hand is as such, we suggest

running a robust Sandwich-estimator or a model with panel corrected standard

errors (in stage 3) and inclusion of the lagged dependent variable (Beck and

Katz 1995) or/and model the dynamics by an MA1 process (Prais-Winsten

transformation of the original data in stage 1 and 3).5 The coefficients of the

time-invariant variables are estimated in a procedure similar to cross-sectional

OLS. Accordingly, the estimation of time invariant variables shares the pooled

OLS properties. However, the estimation deals with an omitted variable (the

unobserved unit effects), the estimator remains inconsistent even if N

approaches infinity. A potential solution is to use instruments for the timeinvariant and rarely changing variables correlated with the unit effects.

However, such instruments are notoriously difficult to find, especially since unit

effects are unobservable.

In the absence of appropriate instruments, all existing estimators give biased

results. In the case of the fixed effects vector decomposition model, this is the

case because in order to compute coefficients for the time invariant variables,

we need to make a stark assumption: All variance is attributed to the rarely

changing or time-invariant variables and the covariance between the z-variables

and the fixed effects is assumed to be zero.

The bias of m estimated by OLS in the second stage depends on the covariance

between the z-variables and the fixed effects and the cross-sectional variance of

the z-variables. The bias of m is positive, the coefficient of the z-variables tends

to be larger than the true value, if the rarely changing and time-invariant

Since pcse and robust options only manipulate the VC matrix and therefore the standard

errors of the coefficients it is sensible to do these corrections only in stage 3 because stage 1

is solely used to receive the fixed effects (which are not altered by either pcse or robust VC

matrix). A correction for serial correlation by a Prais-Winsten transformation also affects

the estimates and therefore the estimated fixed effects in stage 1 and is accordingly

implemented in both stage 1 and stage 3 of the procedure.

11

variables co-vary positively with the unit fixed effects and vice versa. The larger

the between variance of the z-variables the smaller the actual bias of m .

4.

procedures, we conduct a series of Monte Carlo analyses evaluating the

competing estimators by their root mean squared errors (RMSE). In particular,

we are interested in the finite sample properties of competing estimators in

relation to estimating the coefficients of time-invariant (section 4) and rarely

changing (section 5) variables.

The RMSE thus provides a unified view of the two main sources of wrong point

estimates: bias and inefficiency. King, Keohane and Verba (1994: 74) highlight

the fundamental trade-off between bias and efficiency: We would () be

willing to sacrifice unbiasedness () in order to obtain a significantly more

efficient estimator. () The idea is to choose the estimator with the minimum

mean squared error since it shows precisely how an estimator with some bias

can be preferred if it has a smaller variance. This potential trade-off between

efficiency and unbiasedness implies that the choice of the best estimator typically depends on the sample size. If researchers always went for the estimator

with the best asymptotic properties (as typically recommended in econometric

textbooks) they would always choose the best estimator for very large samples.

Unfortunately, this estimator could perform poorly in estimating the finite

sample at hand.

All experiments use simulated data, which are generated to discriminate between the various estimators, while at the same time mimic some properties of

panel data. Specifically, the data generating process underlying our simulations

is as follows: y it = + 1x1it + 2 x2it + 3 x3it + 4 z1i + 5 z2i + 6z3i + u i + i t ,

where the x-variables are time varying and the z-variables are time-invariant,

both groups are drawn from a normal distribution. u i denotes the unit specific

unobserved effects and also follows normal distribution. The idiosyncratic error

6

For two reasons we are not interested in analyzing the infinite sample properties: First,

econometric textbook wisdom suggests that pooled OLS is the best estimator if N equals

infinity while the FE model has the best properties for the problem at hand if N is finite and

T infinite. And second, data sets used by applied researchers have typically fairly limited

sizes. Adolph, Butler, and Wilson (2005, pp 4-5) show that most data sets analyzed by

political scientists consist of between 20 and 100 cases typically observed over between 20

and 50 periods. Unfortunately, an estimator with optimal asymptotic properties does not

need to perform best with finite samples.

12

i t is white noise and is for each run repeatedly drawn from a standard normal

varying variable correlated with the unit effects u i , z3 is time-invariant in

section 4 and rarely changing in section 5. In both cases, z3 is correlated with

u i . We hold the coefficients of the true model constant throughout all experiments at the following values:

= 1, 1 = 0.5, 2 = 2, 3 = -1.5, 4 = -2.5, 5 = 1.8, 6 = 3 .

Among these six variables, only variables x3 and z3 are of analytical interest

since only these two variables are correlated with the unit specific effects u i .

Variables x1, x2, z1 and z2 do not co-vary with u i . However, we include these

additional time-variant and time-invariant variables into the data generating

process, because we want to ensure that the Hausman-Taylor instrumental

estimation is at least just identified or even overidentified (Hausman/ Taylor

1981). We hold this outline of the simulations constant in section 5, where we

analyze the properties of the FE model and the vector decomposition technique

in the presence of rarely changing variables correlated with the unit effects.

While the inclusion of the uncorrelated variables x1, x2, z1 and z2 is not

necessary in section 5, these variables do not adversely affect the simulations

and we keep them to maintain comparability across all experiments. All timevarying x variables and time-invariant z variables as well as the unit specific

effects u i follow a standard normal distribution.7

In the experiments, we varied the number of units (N=15, 30, 50, 70, 100), the

number of time periods (T=20, 40, 70, 100), the correlation between x3 and the

unit effects

possible permutations of these settings is 2000, which would have led to 2000

times the aggregated number of estimators used in both experiments times 1000

single estimations in the Monte Carlo analyses. In total, this would have given

18 million regressions. However, without loss of generality, we simplified the

Monte Carlos and estimated only 980,000 single regression models. We report

only representative examples of these Monte Carlo analyses here, but the output

of the simulations is available upon request.

N~(0,1); z3 in chapter 5 is rarely changing, the between and within standard deviation for

this variable are changed according to the specifications in figures 5-7.

13

5.

We report the RMSE and the bias of the five estimators, averaged over 10

experiments with varying correlation between z3 and u i . The Monte Carlo

analysis underlying Table 1 holds the sample size and the correlation between

x3 and u i constant. In other words, we vary only the correlation between the

correlated time-invariant variable z3 and the unit effects corr(u,z3).

Table 1 about here

Observe first, that (in this and all following tables) we highlight all estimation

results, in which the estimator performs best or within a narrow range of 10%

(of the RMSE) to the best estimator. Table 1 reveals that estimators vary

widely in respect to the correlated explanatory variables x3 and z3. While the

vector decomposition model, Hausman-Taylor, and the fixed effects model

estimate the coefficient of the correlated time-varying variable (x3) with almost

identical accuracy, pooled OLS, the vector decomposition model and the

random effects model perform more or less equally well in estimating the effects

of the correlated time-invariant variable (z3). In other words, only the fixed

effects vector decomposition model performs best with respect to both variables

correlated with the unit effects, x3 and z3.

The poor performance of Hausman-Taylor results from the inefficiency of

instrumental variable models. While it holds true that one can reduce the

inefficiency of the Hausman-Taylor procedure by improving the quality of the

instruments (Breusch/ Mizon/ Schmidt 1989; Amemiya/ MaCurdy 1986, Baltagi/ Khanti-Akom 1990, Baltagi / Bresson/ Pirotte 2003, Oaxaca/ Geisler 2003),

all carefully selected instruments have to satisfy two conditions simultaneously:

they have to be uncorrelated with the unit effects and correlated with the

endogenous variables. Needless to say that finding instruments which simultaneously satisfy these two conditions is a difficult task especially since the unit

effects cannot be observed but only estimated.

Pooled OLS and the random effects model fail to adequately account for the

correlation between the unit effects and both the time-invariant and the timevarying variables. Hence, parameter estimates for all variables correlated with

the unit effects are biased. When applied researchers are theoretically interested

14

in both time-varying and time-invariant variables, the fixed effect vector

decomposition technique is superior to its alternatives.

Figures 1a-d allow an equally easy comparison of the five competing estimators.

Note that in the simulations underlying these figures, we held all parameters

constant and varied only the correlation between the time-invariant variable z3

and u i (Figures 1a and 1b) and the time-varying variable x3 and u i (Figures 1c

and 1d), respectively. Figures 1a and 1c display the effect of this variation on

the RMSE of the estimates for the time-varying variable x3, Figures 1b and 1d

the effect on the coefficient of the time-invariant variable z3.

corr(z3, u i ) affects

1.0

0.10

0.8

RMSE (x3)

0.11

0.09

RSME (x3)

corr(x3, u i ) affects

pooled OLS

0.08

random effects

the

0.07

RMSE

0.06

0.6

0.2

fixed effects

0.0

hausman-taylor

of x3

xtfevd

0.05

0.0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

0.0

1.0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

1.0

corr (x3, u)

corr (z3, u)

rho( u i ,x3)=0.3

rho( u i ,z3)=0.3

2.2

2.0

2.0

1.8

1.8

1.4

RMSE (z3)

RMSE (z3)

hausman-taylor

1.4

1.2

1.0

the

0.8

RMSE

0.4

hausman-taylor

1.6

1.6

of z3

random effects

pooled OLS

0.4

1.2

1.0

0.8

0.6

0.6

xtfevd

0.4

0.2

xtfevd

0.2

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

1.0

0.0

0.1

0.2

corr (z3, u)

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

1.0

corr (x3, u)

rho( u i ,x3)=0.3

rho( u i ,z3)=0.3

Figures 1 a-d: Change in the RMSE over variation in the correlation between

the unit effects and z3, x3, respectively

15

Figures 1a to 1d re-establish the results of Table 1. We find that fevd, random

effects and pooled OLS perform equally well in estimating the coefficient of the

correlated time-invariant variable z3, while fixed effects, Hausman-Taylor and

fevd are superior in estimating the coefficient of time-varying variable x3. We

find that the advantages of the vector decomposition procedure over its

alternatives do not depend on the size of the correlation between the regressors

and the unit effects but rather hold over the entire bandwidth of correlations.

The fixed effects vector decomposition model is the sole model which gives

reliable finite sample estimates if the dataset to be estimated includes timevarying and time-invariant variables correlated with the unit effects.8 This

seems to suggest that there is no reason to use the fevd estimator in the absence

of time-invariant variables. In the following section, we demonstrate that this

conclusion is not correct. The fevd estimator also gives more reliable estimates

of the coefficients of variables which vary over time but which are almost timeinvariant. We call those variable rarely changing variables.

6.

One advantage of the fixed effects vector decomposition procedure over the

Hausman-Taylor procedure and the Hsiao suggestions is that it extends nicely

to almost time-invariant variables. Estimation of these variables by fixed effects

gives a coefficient, but the estimation is extremely inefficient and hence the

estimated coefficients are unreliable (Green et al. 2001 Beck/ Katz 2001).

However, if we do not estimate the model by fixed effects, than estimated

coefficients are biased if the regressor is correlated with the unit effects. Since it

seems not unreasonable to assume that the unit effects are made up primarily of

geographical and various institutional variables, it is not unreasonable to

perform an orthogonal decomposition of the explained part and an unexplained

part as described above. Clearly, the orthogonality assumption is often

incorrect and this will inevitably bias the estimated coefficients of the almost

time-invariant variables. As we will demonstrate in this section, this bias is

under identifiable conditions less harmful than the inefficiency caused by fixed

effects estimation. At the same time, our procedure is also superior to

Appendix A demonstrates that this result also holds true when we vary the sample size.

Even with a comparably large T and N the fixed effects vector decomposition model

performs best.

16

estimation by random effects or pooled OLS as we leave the time-varying

variables unbiased whereas the latter two procedures do not.

Obviously the performance of fevd will depend on what exactly the data

generating process is. In our simulations we show that unless the DGP is highly

unfavorable for fevd, our procedure performs reasonably well and is generally

better than its alternatives.

Before we report the results of the Monte Carlo simulations, let us briefly

explain why the estimation of almost time-invariant variables by the standard

fixed effects model is problematic due to inefficiency and what that inefficiency

does to the estimate. The inefficiency of the FE model results from the fact that

it disregards the between variation. Thus, the FE model does not take all the

available information into account. In technical terms, the estimation problem

stems from the asymptotic variance of the fixed effects estimator that is shown

in equation 8:

A var

i =1

( )

(8)

with little within variance, the variance of the estimates can approach infinity.

Thus, if the within variation becomes very small, the point estimates of the

fixed effects estimator become unreliable. When the within variance is small, the

FE model does not only compute large standard errors, but in addition the

sampling variance gets large and therefore the reliability of point predictions is

low and the probability that the estimated coefficient deviates largely from the

true coefficient increases.

Our Monte Carlo simulations seek to identify the conditions under which the

fixed effects vector decomposition model computes more reliable coefficients

than the fixed effects model. Table 2 reports the output of a typical simulation

analogous to Table 1:9

Table 2 about here

We have also compared the vector decomposition and the fixed effects model to pooled OLS

and the random effects model. Since all findings for time-invariant variables carry over to

rarely changing variables, indicating that the vector decomposition model dominates pooled

OLS and random effects models, we report the results of the RE and pooled OLS Monte

Carlos only in the online appendix.

17

Results displayed in Table 2 mirror those reported in Table 1. As before, we

find that only the fevd procedure gives sufficiently reliable estimates for both

the correlated time-varying x3 and the rarely changing variable z3. As expected,

the fixed effects model provides far less reliable estimates of the coefficients of

rarely changing variables. There can thus be no doubt that the fixed effects

vector decomposition model can improve the reliability of the estimation in the

presence of variables with low within and relatively high between variance. We

also find that pooled OLS and the RE model estimate rarely changing variables

with more or less the same degree of reliability as the fevd model but are far

worse in estimating the coefficients of time-varying variables. Note that these

results are robust regardless of sample size.10

Since any further discussion of these issues would be redundant, we do not

further consider the RE and the pooled OLS model in this section. Rather, this

section provides answers to two interrelated questions: First, can the vector

decomposition model give more reliable estimates (a lower RMSE) than the FE

model? And second, in case we can answer the first question positively, what

are the conditions that determine the relative performance of both estimators?

To answer these questions, we assess the finite sample properties of the

competing models in estimating rarely changing variables by a second series of

Monte Carlo experiments. With one notable exception, the data generating

process in this section is identical to the one used in section 5. The exception is

that now z3 is not time-invariant but a rarely changing variable with a low

within variation and a defined ratio of between to within variance.

The easiest way to explore the relative performance of the fixed effects model

and the vector decomposition model is to change the ratio between the between

variance and the within variance across experiments. We call this ratio the b/wratio and compute it by dividing the between standard deviation by the within

standard deviation of a variable. There are two ways to vary this ratio

systematically: we can hold the between variation constant and vary the within

variation or we can hold the within variation constant and vary the between

variation. We use both techniques. In Figure 2, we hold the between standard

10

We re-ran all Monte Carlo experiments on rarely changing variables for different sample

sizes. Specifically, we analyzed all permutations of N={15, 30, 50, 70, 100} and T={20, 40,

70, 100}. The results are shown in Table A2 of Appendix A (see the Political Analysis

webpage). All findings for rarely changing variables remain valid for larger and smaller

samples, as well as for N exceeding T and T exceeding N.

18

deviation constant at 1.2 and change the within standard deviation successively

from 0.15 to 1.73, so that the ratio of between to within variation varies

between 8 and 0.7. In Figure 3, we hold the within variance constant and

change the between variance.

Parameter settings:

2.2

2.0

N=30

1.8

T=20

RMSE (z3)

1.6

rho(u,x3)=0;

1.4

rho(u,z3)=0.3

fixed effects

1.2

1.0

0.8

within SD (z3)

0.6

fevd

0.151.73

0.4

0.2

8

Recall that the estimator with the lower RMSE gives more reliable estimates.

Hence, Figure 2 shows that when the within variance increases relative to the

between variance, the fixed effects model becomes increasingly reliable. Since

the reliability of the vector decomposition model does not change, we find that

the choice of an estimator is contingent. Below a between to within standard

deviation of approximately 1.7, the fixed effects estimator performs better than

the vector decomposition model. Above this threshold, it is better to trade

unbiasedness for the efficiency of the vector decomposition model. Accordingly,

the b/w-ratio should clearly inform the choice of estimators. This finding

depends on the correlation of the rarely changing variable z3 with the unit fixed

effects of 0.3. Furthermore, the threshold ratio is dependent on the relation of

between variance to the variance of the overall error term.

We obtain similar results when we change the within variation and keep the

between variation constant. Figure 3 shows simultaneously the results of two

slightly different experiments. In the one experiment (dotted line), we varied the

within variation and kept the between variation and the error constant. In the

other experiment, we kept the between variation constant but varied the within

variation and the error variance in a way that the fevd-R remained constant.

19

Parameter settings:

0.8

N=30

0.7

T=20,

RMSE (z3)

0.6

rho(u,x3)=0

0.5

rho(u,z3)=0.3

0.4

fixed effects

0.3

within SD (z3): 1

0.2

0.1

fevd

0.0

8

In both experiments, we find the threshold to be at approximately 1.7 for a

correlation of z3 and u i of 0.3. We can conclude that the result is not merely

the result of the way in which we computed variation in the b/w-ratio, since the

threshold level remained constant over the two experiments.

Unfortunately, the relative performance of the fixed effects model and the vector

decomposition model does not solely depend on the b/w-ratio. Rather, we also

expected and found a strong influence of the correlation between the rarely

changing variable and the unit effects. The influence of the correlation between

the unit effects and the rarely changing variable obviously results from the fact

that it affects the bias of the vector decomposition model but does not influence

the inefficiency of the fixed effects model. Thus, a larger correlation between the

unit effects and the rarely changing variable renders the vector decomposition

model worse relative to the fixed effects model. We illustrate the strength of

this effect by relating it to the level of the b/w-ratio, at which the FE model

and the fevd model give identical RMSE. Accordingly, Figure 4 displays the

dependence of the threshold level of the b/w-ratio on the correlation between

the rarely changing variable and the unit effects.

20

Parameter settings:

5.0

N=30

4.5

T=20,

4.0

3.5

R = 0.5

b/w-ratio

3.0

2.5

rho(u,x3)=0,

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0.0

0.0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

within SD (z3): 1

correlation of z3 and ui

Figure 4: The correlation between z3 and u i and the minimum ratio between

the between and within standard deviation that renders fevd superior to the

fixed effects model

Note that, as expected, the threshold b/w-ratio is strictly increasing in the

correlation between the rarely changing variable and the unobserved unit

effects. In the case where the rarely changing variable is uncorrelated with u i ,

the threshold of b/w-ratio is as small as 0.2. At a correlation of 0.3, fevd is

superior to the FE model if the b/w-ratio is larger than approximately 1.7; at a

correlation of 0.5 the threshold increases to about 2.8 and at a correlation of 0.8

the threshold gets close to 3.8. Therefore, we cannot offer a simple rule of

thumb which informs applied researchers of when a particular variable is better

estimated as invariant variable by fevd or as time-varying variable. Even worse,

the correlation between the unit effects and the rarely changing variable is not

directly observable, because the unit effects are unobservable. However, the

odds are that at a b/w-ration of at least 2.8, the variable is better included into

the stage 2 estimation of fevd than estimated by a standard FE model.

Applied researchers can improve estimates created by the vector decomposition

model by reducing the potential for correlation. To do so, stage 2 of the fevd

model needs to be studied carefully. We can reduce the potential for bias of the

estimation by including additional time-invariant or rarely-changing variables

into stage 2. This may reduce bias but is likely to also reduce efficiency.

Alternatively, applied researchers can use variables which are uncorrelated with

the unit effects as instruments for potentially correlated time-invariant or rarely

changing variables a strategy which resembles the Hausman-Taylor model.

21

Yet, as we have repeatedly pointed out: it is impossible to tell good from bad

instruments since the unit effects can not be observed.

The decision whether to treat a variable as time invariant or varying depends

on the ratio of between to within variation of this variable and on the

correlation between the unit effects and the rarely changing variables. In this

respect, the estimation of time-invariant variables is just a special case of the

estimation of rarely changing variables a special case in which the between-towithin variance ratio equals infinity and fevd is consequently better.

These findings suggest that strictly speaking the level of within variation

does not influence the relative performance of fevd and FE models. However,

with a relatively large within variance, the problem of inefficiency does not

matter much the RMSE of the FE estimator will be low. Still, if the within

variance is large but the between variance is much larger, the vector

decomposition model will perform better on average. With a large within

variance, the actual absolute advantage in reliability of the fevd estimator will

be tiny.

From a more general perspective, the main result of this section is that the

choice between the fixed effects model and the fevd estimator depends on the

relative efficiency of the estimators and on the bias. As King, Keohane and

Verba have argued (1994: p. 74), applied researchers are not well advised if they

base their choice of the estimator solely on unbiasedness. At times, point

predictions become more reliable (the RMSE is smaller) when researchers use

the more efficient estimator. The fixed effects vector decomposition model is

more efficient than the fixed effects model since it uses more information.

Rather than just relying on the within variance, our estimator also uses the

between variance to compute coefficients.

6.

Conclusion

Under identifiable conditions, the vector decomposition model produces more reliable estimates for time-invariant and rarely changing variables in panel data

with unit effects than any alternative estimator of which we are aware. The case

for the vector decomposition model is clear when researchers are interested in

time-invariant variables. While the fixed effects model does not compute

coefficients of time-invariant variables, the vector decomposition model performs

better than the Hausman-Taylor model, pooled OLS and the random effects

model.

22

The case for the vector decomposition model is less straightforward, when at

least one regressor is not strictly time-invariant but shows some variation across

time. Nevertheless, under many conditions the vector decomposition technique

produces more reliable estimates. These conditions are: first and most

importantly, the between variation needs to be larger than the within variation;

and second, the higher the correlation between the rarely changing variable and

the unit effects, the worse the vector decomposition model performs relative to

the fixed effects model and the higher the b/w-ratio needs to be to render fevd

more reliable.

From our Monte Carlo results, we can derive the following rules that may

inform the applied researchers selection of an estimator on a more general level:

Estimation by Pooled-OLS or random effects models is only appropriate if unit

effects do not exist or if the Hausman-test suggests that existing unit effects are

uncorrelated with the regressors. If either of these conditions is not satisfied, the

fixed effects model and the vector decomposition model compute more reliable

estimates for time-varying variables. Among these models, the fixed effects

model performs best if the within variance of all regressors of interest is

sufficiently large in comparison to their between variance. We suggest

estimating a fixed effects model, unless the ratio of the between-to-within

variance exceeds 2.8 for at least one variable of interest. Otherwise, the

efficiency of the fixed effects vector decomposition model becomes more

important than the unbiasedness of the fixed effects model. Therefore, the

vector decomposition procedure is the model of choice if at least one regressor is

time-invariant or if the between variation of at least one regressor exceeds it's

within variation by at least a factor of 2.8 and if the Hausman-test suggests

that regressors are correlated with the unit effects.

23

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25

P-OLS

RMSE

fevd

average

bias

RMSE

average

bias

time-varying

variable x3

0.187

-0.167

0.103

0.001

time-invariant

variable z3

0.494

-0.470

0.523

-0.548

Settings of the parameter held constant:

N=30, T=20

Corr(u,x1)=corr(u,x2)=corr(u,z1)=corr(u,z2)=0

Corr(u,x3)=0.5

Hausmann-Taylor

average

RMSE

bias

0.105

-0.003

RE

FE

RMSE

average

bias

RMSE

average

bias

0.173

-0.149

0.103

-0.001

1.485

-1.128

0.506

-0.481

Settings of the varying parameter:

Corr(u,z3)={0.1, 0.2,, 0.9, 0.99}

fevd

RMSE

time-varying

variable x3

0.069

Rarely changing

variable z3

0.131

parameters held constant:

N=30, T=20

corr(u,x1)=corr(u,x2)=corr(u,z1)

=corr(u,z2)=0

corr(u,z3)=0.3

corr(u,x3)=0.5

Between SD (z3)=1.2

average bias

FE

RMSE

average bias

0.001

0.069

0.000

0.001

0.858

0.008

varied parameters:

Within SD

(z3)={0.04,,0.94}

26

Online Appendix

N={15,30,50,70,100} and T={20,40,70,100} in the estimation of time-invariant

variables.

P-OLS

15

30

N=50

70

100

fevd

15

30

N=50

70

100

h-taylor

15

30

N=50

70

100

RE

15

30

N=50

70

100

FE

15

30

N=50

70

100

20

0.164

0.158

0.168

0.160

0.172

20

0.113

0.079

0.062

0.051

0.043

20

0.114

0.079

0.060

0.051

0.042

20

0.146

0.138

0.154

0.145

0.151

20

0.110

0.080

0.061

0.052

0.044

x3

T=

40

0.160

0.169

0.172

0.173

0.172

40

0.079

0.054

0.042

0.037

0.030

40

0.080

0.056

0.044

0.037

0.030

40

0.146

0.153

0.150

0.152

0.156

40

0.078

0.058

0.043

0.037

0.031

70

0.167

0.175

0.172

0.170

0.169

70

0.058

0.041

0.032

0.028

0.023

70

0.060

0.038

0.032

0.026

0.022

70

0.144

0.152

0.151

0.149

0.147

70

0.057

0.041

0.032

0.027

0.023

100

0.162

0.173

0.168

0.169

0.170

100

0.050

0.035

0.027

0.022

0.019

100

0.048

0.034

0.027

0.022

0.018

100

0.139

0.152

0.146

0.149

0.146

100

0.049

0.036

0.028

0.024

0.020

20

0.316

0.247

0.281

0.258

0.248

20

0.348

0.298

0.305

0.302

0.305

20

1.085

1.720

0.539

0.434

0.543

20

0.338

0.264

0.290

0.268

0.254

20

z3

T=

40

0.275

0.257

0.251

0.253

0.256

40

0.316

0.299

0.300

0.299

0.296

40

0.437

0.704

2.169

2.889

1.085

40

0.282

0.253

0.251

0.260

0.254

40

70

0.261

0.242

0.241

0.243

0.247

70

0.302

0.301

0.302

0.300

0.302

70

0.738

0.721

0.399

1.541

0.406

70

0.264

0.261

0.249

0.256

0.257

70

100

0.251

0.273

0.248

0.243

0.252

100

0.304

0.297

0.300

0.299

0.300

100

0.721

2.645

1.386

0.377

0.749

100

0.255

0.275

0.252

0.251

0.261

100

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

N={15, 30, 50, 70, 100); T={20, 40, 70, 100}; corr(u,x3)=0.4; corr(u,z3)=0.3

27

Table A2 displays the RMSE of the procedures for all permutations of

N={15,30,50,70,100} and T={20,40,70,100} in the estimation of time-invariant

variables.

P-OLS

15

30

N=50

70

100

fevd

15

30

N=50

70

100

RE

15

30

N=50

70

100

FE

15

30

N=50

70

100

20

0.087

0.100

0.105

0.104

0.112

20

0.053

0.039

0.031

0.026

0.021

20

0.077

0.074

0.073

0.070

0.076

20

0.056

0.038

0.030

0.026

0.022

x3

T=

40

0.104

0.111

0.113

0.114

0.113

40

0.038

0.028

0.021

0.019

0.015

40

0.072

0.079

0.075

0.076

0.076

40

0.037

0.027

0.021

0.018

0.014

70

0.111

0.115

0.114

0.109

0.108

70

0.029

0.020

0.016

0.013

0.011

70

0.078

0.081

0.073

0.069

0.068

70

0.029

0.021

0.016

0.013

0.011

100

0.103

0.107

0.108

0.110

0.109

100

0.024

0.017

0.013

0.011

0.009

100

0.075

0.076

0.069

0.068

0.065

100

0.023

0.017

0.014

0.011

0.009

20

0.193

0.140

0.106

0.088

0.076

20

0.188

0.137

0.102

0.088

0.072

20

0.192

0.136

0.111

0.090

0.074

20

0.702

0.738

0.741

0.776

0.746

z3

T=

40

0.140

0.100

0.073

0.066

0.054

40

0.143

0.100

0.077

0.063

0.053

40

0.148

0.097

0.073

0.062

0.054

40

0.733

0.732

0.733

0.738

0.720

N={15, 30, 50, 70, 100); T={20, 40, 70, 100}; corr(u,x3)=0.3;

ratio between/within sd (z3)=5.5

70

0.104

0.072

0.058

0.047

0.041

70

0.105

0.071

0.057

0.047

0.041

70

0.109

0.073

0.058

0.047

0.040

70

0.734

0.753

0.718

0.728

0.707

100

0.088

0.065

0.047

0.041

0.034

100

0.086

0.059

0.048

0.040

0.034

100

0.090

0.063

0.050

0.041

0.033

100

0.701

0.698

0.726

0.723

0.738

28

Table A3

p-ols

RMSE

average bias

time-varying

variable x3

0.265

-0.265

Rarely changing

variable z3

0.133

0.028

parameters held constant:

N=30, T=20

corr(u,x1)=corr(u,x2)=corr(u,z1)

=corr(u,z2)=0

corr(u,z3)=0.3

corr(u,x3)=0.5

Between SD (z3)=1.2

fevd

RMSE

average bias

RE

RMSE

average bias

FE

RMSE

average bias

0.069

0.001

0.230

-0.230

0.069

0.000

0.131

0.001

0.858

0.008

0.133

0.027

varied parameters:

Within SD

(z3)={0.04,,0.94}

Stata code for fevd (it makes more sense to distribute the ado-file rather than

the code)

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