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The Role of Randomized Field Trials in Social Science Research: A Perspective from Evaluations of Reforms of Social Welfare Programs

  • Robert A. Moffitt

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Technical Working Papers with number 0295.

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Date of creation: Oct 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberte:0295
Note: TWP
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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Alicia H. Munnell, 1986. "Lessons from the income maintenance experiments: an overview," Conference Series ; [Proceedings], Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, vol. 30, pages 1-21.
  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 S396-415, January.
  5. 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.
  6. V. Joseph Hotz & Guido W. Imbens & Jacob A. Klerman, 2001. "The Long-Term Gains from GAIN: A Re-Analysis of the Impacts of the California GAIN Program," Working Papers 01-03, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
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