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The role of randomized field trials in social science research: a perspective from evaluations of reforms of social welfare programs

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  • Robert Moffitt

    () (Institute for Fiscal Studies and Johns Hopkins University)

Abstract

One of the areas of policy research where randomized field trials have been utilized most intensively is welfare reform. Starting in the late 1960s with experimental tests of a negative income tax and continuing through current experimental tests of recent welfare reforms, randomized evaluations have played a strong and increasing role in informing policy. This paper reviews the record of these experiments and assesses the implications of that record for the use of randomization. The review demonstrates that, while randomized field trials in the area of welfare reform have been professionally conducted and well-run, and have yielded much valuable and credible information, their usefulness has been limited by a number of weaknesses, some of which are inherent in the method and some of which result from constraints imposed by the political process. The conclusion is that randomized field trials have an important but limited role to play in future welfare reform evaluations, and that it is essential that they be supplemented by nonexperimental research.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Moffitt, 2002. "The role of randomized field trials in social science research: a perspective from evaluations of reforms of social welfare programs," CeMMAP working papers CWP23/02, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:cemmap:23/02
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    File URL: http://cemmap.ifs.org.uk/wps/cwp0223.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Moffitt, Robert, 1992. "Incentive Effects of the U.S. Welfare System: A Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 1-61, March.
    2. 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.
    3. Michael J. Camasso & Radha Jagannathan & Carol Harvey & Mark Killingsworth, 2003. "The use of client surveys to gauge the threat of contamination in welfare reform experiments," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(2), pages 207-223.
    4. Ashenfelter, Orley & Plant, Mark W, 1990. "Nonparametric Estimates of the Labor-Supply Effects of Negative Income Tax Programs," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages 396-415, January.
    5. V. Joseph Hotz & Guido W. Imbens & Julie H. Mortimer, 1999. "Predicting the Efficacy of Future Training Programs Using Past Experiences," NBER Technical Working Papers 0238, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Robert A. Moffitt, 1996. "The effect of employment and training programs on entry and exit from the welfare caseload," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(1), pages 32-50.
    7. V. Joseph Hotz & Guido W. Imbens & Jacob A. Klerman, 2000. "The Long-Term Gains from GAIN: A Re-Analysis of the Impacts of the California GAIN Program," NBER Working Papers 8007, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. repec:fth:prinin:380 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Gary Burtless, 1986. "The work response to a guaranteed income: a survey of experimental evidence," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 30, pages 22-59.
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    11. David Card & Philip K. Robins & Winston Lin, 1998. "Would Financial Incentives for Leaving Welfare Lead Some People to Stay on Welfare Longer? An Experimental Evaluation of 'Entry Effects' in the SSP," NBER Working Papers 6449, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Leventhal, Tama & Dupéré, Véronique, 2011. "Moving to Opportunity: Does long-term exposure to 'low-poverty' neighborhoods make a difference for adolescents?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(5), pages 737-743, September.
    2. Ravallion, Martin, 2008. "Evaluating Anti-Poverty Programs," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
    3. Hugo Benítez-Silva & Richard Disney & Sergi Jiménez-Martín, 2010. "Disability, capacity for work and the business cycle: an international perspective," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 25, pages 483-536, July.
    4. Kling, Jeffrey R., 2007. "Methodological Frontiers of Public Finance Field Experiments," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 60(1), pages 109-127, March.
    5. Hugo Benitez-Silva & Moshe Buchinsky & John Rust, 2005. "Induced Entry Effects of a $1 for $2 Offset in SSDI Benefits," Department of Economics Working Papers 05-03, Stony Brook University, Department of Economics.
    6. Ted Joyce & Robert Kaestner & Sanders Korenman & Stanley Henshaw, 2004. "Family Cap Provisions and Changes in Births and Abortions," NBER Working Papers 10214, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. World Bank, 2007. "Poverty and Environment : Understanding Linkages at the Household Level," World Bank Other Operational Studies 7744, The World Bank.
    8. World Bank, 2007. "Poverty and Environment : Understanding Linkages at the Household Level," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 6924, November.
    9. Nagy, Gyula & Micklewright, John, 2006. "Az álláskeresés ellenőrzése és a munkanélküliség időtartama. Egy társadalomtudományi kísérlet
      [Job-search monitoring and unemployment duration: evidence from a randomized control trial]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(7), pages 641-660.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty

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