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The Limits of Inference without Theory

Author

Listed:
  • Wolpin, Kenneth I.

    () (University of Pennsylvania)

Abstract

In this rigorous and well-crafted work, Kenneth Wolpin examines the role of theory in inferential empirical work in economics and the social sciences in general--that is, any research that uses raw data to go beyond the mere statement of fact or the tabulation of statistics. He considers in particular the limits that eschewing the use of theory places on inference. Wolpin finds that the absence of theory in inferential work that addresses microeconomic issues is pervasive. That theory is unnecessary for inference is exemplified by the expression Òlet the data speak for themselves.Ó This approach is often called Òreduced form.Ó A more nuanced view is based on the use of experiments or quasi-experiments to draw inferences. Atheoretical approaches stand in contrast to what is known as the structuralist approach, which requires that a researcher specify an explicit model of economic behavior--that is, a theory. Wolpin offers a rigorous examination of both structuralist and nonstructuralist approaches. He first considers ex ante policy evaluation, highlighting the role of theory in the implementation of parametric and nonparametric estimation strategies. He illustrates these strategies with two examples, a wage tax and a school attendance subsidy, and summarizes the results from applications. He then presents a number of examples that illustrate the limits of inference without theory: the effect of unemployment benefits on unemployment duration; the effect of public welfare on womenÕs labor market and demographic outcomes; the effect of school attainment on earnings; and a famous field experiment in education dealing with class size. Placing each example within the context of the broader literature, he contrasts them to recent work that relies on theory for inference.

Suggested Citation

  • Wolpin, Kenneth I., 2013. "The Limits of Inference without Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262019086, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:mtp:titles:0262019086
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2016. "Are Unrealistic Assumptions/Simplifications Acceptable? Some Methodological Issues in Economics," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(2), pages 180-201, May.
    2. Stéphane Bonhomme & Martin Weidner, 2018. "Minimizing sensitivity to model misspecification," CeMMAP working papers CWP59/18, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    3. Gibson, John & McKenzie, David & Rohorua, Halahingano & Stillman, Steven, 2019. "The long-term impact of international migration on economic decision-making: Evidence from a migration lottery and lab-in-the-field experiments," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 138(C), pages 99-115.
    4. Schorfheide, Frank & Wolpin, Kenneth I., 2016. "To hold out or not to hold out," Research in Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(2), pages 332-345.
    5. Rodrigo Adão & Costas Arkolakis & Federico Espósito, 2019. "Spatial Linkages, Global Shocks, and Local Labor Markets: Theory and Evidence," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 2163, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    6. Deaton, Angus & Cartwright, Nancy, 2018. "Understanding and misunderstanding randomized controlled trials," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 210(C), pages 2-21.
    7. Chirvi, Malte, 2019. "Arbeiten Frauen aufgrund des Ehegattensplittings weniger? Eine empirische Untersuchung für Deutschland," arqus Discussion Papers in Quantitative Tax Research 241, arqus - Arbeitskreis Quantitative Steuerlehre.
    8. John Rust, 2014. "The Limits of Inference with Theory: A Review of Wolpin (2013)," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 52(3), pages 820-850, September.
    9. Philipp Eisenhauer & James J. Heckman & Stefano Mosso, 2015. "Estimation Of Dynamic Discrete Choice Models By Maximum Likelihood And The Simulated Method Of Moments," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 56, pages 331-357, May.
    10. repec:spr:custns:v:5:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s40547-017-0072-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. R. Vincent Pohl, 2018. "Medicaid And The Labor Supply Of Single Mothers: Implications For Health Care Reform," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 59(3), pages 1283-1313, August.
    12. Denni Tommasi & Arthur Lewbel & Rossella Calvi, 2017. "LATE with Mismeasured or Misspecified Treatment: An application to Women's Empowerment in India," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2017-27, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    13. repec:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:4:p:103-24 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Karthik Muralidharan & Paul Niehaus, 2017. "Experimentation at Scale," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 31(4), pages 103-124, Fall.
    15. repec:eee:econom:v:203:y:2018:i:1:p:19-32 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. repec:bla:jecsur:v:32:y:2018:i:2:p:518-540 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Seul-Ki Shin, 2014. "Preferences vs. Opportunities: Racial/Ethnic Intermarriage in the United States," PIER Working Paper Archive 14-040, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Economics; Social Sciences; Microeconomics; Education; Welfare;

    JEL classification:

    • I0 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General

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