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Are Classical Experiments Needed for Manpower Policy


  • Gary Burtless
  • Larry L. Orr


The critical element that distinguishes classical experiments from all other modes of analysis is the random assignment of treatment to enrollees in a study. This paper examines the major methodological advantages of random assignment for the purpose of estimating the effectiveness of current manpower policy. It also reviews the claimed methodological and ethical objections to experiments. The main valid objection to an experiment is neither methodological nor ethical, it is the experiment's cost in relation to that of nonexperimental methods of analysis. The authors argue that the offsetting gain from experimentation is the inherent reliability of experimental estimates of treatment effects. The paper offers a simple framework for deciding whether the improved reliability of treatment-effect estimates is worth the added cost of experimentation. It concludes with an assessment of the actual value of experiments for evaluating current manpower policies.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:uwp:jhriss:v:21:y:1986:i:4:p:606-639

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Victor R. Fuchs, 1982. "Self-Employment and Labor Force Participation of Older Males," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 17(3), pages 339-357.
    2. Chiswick, Barry R, 1978. "The Effect of Americanization on the Earnings of Foreign-born Men," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 897-921, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Guillaume Allègre, 2008. "L’expérimentation sociale des incitations financières à l’emploi : questions méthodologiques et leçons des expériences nord-américaines," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2008-22, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    2. Jeffrey Smith, 2000. "A Critical Survey of Empirical Methods for Evaluating Active Labor Market Policies," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 136(III), pages 247-268, September.
    3. Hujer, Reinhard & Caliendo, Marco, 2000. "Evaluation of Active Labour Market Policy: Methodological Concepts and Empirical Estimates," IZA Discussion Papers 236, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Cockx, Bart & Ridder, Geert, 2001. "Social Employment of Welfare Recipients in Belgium: An Evaluation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(470), pages 322-352, April.
    5. D. Greenberg & R. H. Meyer & M. Wiseman, "undated". "Prying the lid from the black box: Plotting evaluation strategy for welfare employment and training programs," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 999-93, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    6. Mona Said, 2003. "The Distribution of Gender and Public Sector Pay Premia: Evidence from the Egyptian Organised Sector," Working Papers 132, Department of Economics, SOAS, University of London, UK.
    7. Raaum, Oddbjorn & Torp, Hege, 2002. "Labour market training in Norway--effect on earnings," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 207-247, April.
    8. Lechner, Michael, 1995. "Effects of continuous off-the-job training in East Germany after unification," ZEW Discussion Papers 95-27, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    9. R. Hujer & K.-O. Maurer & M. Wellner, 1997. "The Impact of Training on Unemployment Duration in West Germany -Combining a Discrete Hazard Rate Model with Matching Techniques-," Econometrics 9705001, EconWPA.
    10. repec:spo:wpecon:info:hdl:2441/6148 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Guillaume Allègre, 2010. "L'expérimentation du revenu de solidarité active entre objectifs scientifiques et politiques," Revue de l'OFCE, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 0(2), pages 59-90.
    12. 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.
    13. Carol Harvey & Michael J. Camasso & Radha Jagannathan, 2000. "Evaluating Welfare Reform Waivers under Section 1115," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 165-188, Fall.
    14. Robert J. LaLonde, 2003. "Employment and Training Programs," NBER Chapters,in: Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, pages 517-586 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. repec:iab:iabmit:v:33:i:3:p:345-356 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. James J. Heckman & Jeffrey A. Smith, 1995. "Assessing the Case for Social Experiments," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 85-110, Spring.
    17. A. Smith, Jeffrey & E. Todd, Petra, 2005. "Does matching overcome LaLonde's critique of nonexperimental estimators?," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 125(1-2), pages 305-353.
    18. Jochen Kluve & Christoph M. Schmidt, 2002. "Can training and employment subsidies combat European unemployment?," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 17(35), pages 409-448, October.
    19. Smith, Jeffrey, 2000. "Evaluation aktiver Arbeitsmarktpolitik : Erfahrungen aus Nordamerika (Evaluating Avtive Labor Market Policies : Lessons from North America)," Mitteilungen aus der Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), Nürnberg [Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg, Germany], vol. 33(3), pages 345-356.

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