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Assessing the Case for Social Experiments

  • James J. Heckman
  • Jeffrey A. Smith

This paper analyzes the method of social experiments. The assumptions that justify the experimental method are exposited. Parameters of interest in evaluating social programs are discussed. The authors show how experiments sometimes serve as instrumental variables to identify program impacts. The most favorable case for experiments ignores variability across persons in response to treatments received and assumes that mean impacts of a program are the main object of interest in conducting an evaluation. Experiments do not identify the distribution of program gains unless additional assumptions are maintained. Evidence on the validity of the assumptions used to justify social experiments is presented.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.9.2.85
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 9 (1995)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 85-110

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:9:y:1995:i:2:p:85-110
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.9.2.85
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  1. James Heckman & Jeffrey Smith & Christopher Taber, 1994. "Accounting for Dropouts in Evaluations of Social Experiments," NBER Technical Working Papers 0166, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Heckman, J.J. & Hotz, V.J., 1988. "Choosing Among Alternative Nonexperimental Methods For Estimating The Impact Of Social Programs: The Case Of Manpower Training," University of Chicago - Economics Research Center 88-12, Chicago - Economics Research Center.
  3. Angrist, J.D. & Imbens, G.W., 1991. "Sources of identifying information in evaluation models," Discussion Paper 1991-42, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  4. Finn E. Kydland & Edward C. Prescott, 1990. "The econometrics of the general equilibrium approach to business cycles," Staff Report 130, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  5. Ashenfelter, Orley C, 1978. "Estimating the Effect of Training Programs on Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 60(1), pages 47-57, February.
  6. Heckman, James J, 1990. "Varieties of Selection Bias," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 313-18, May.
  7. Thomas Fraker & Rebecca Maynard, 1987. "The Adequacy of Comparison Group Designs for Evaluations of Employment-Related Programs," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 22(2), pages 194-227.
  8. LaLonde, Robert J, 1986. "Evaluating the Econometric Evaluations of Training Programs with Experimental Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 604-20, September.
  9. Gary Burtless & Larry L. Orr, 1986. "Are Classical Experiments Needed for Manpower Policy," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 21(4), pages 606-639.
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