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On the Generalizability of Experimental Results in Economics

  • Omar Al-Ubaydli
  • John A. List

Economists are increasingly turning to the experimental method as a means to estimate causal effects. By using randomization to identify key treatment effects, theories previously viewed as untestable are now scrutinized, efficacy of public policies are now more easily verified, and stakeholders can swiftly add empirical evidence to aid their decision-making. This study provides an overview of experimental methods in economics, with a special focus on developing an economic theory of generalizability. Given that field experiments are in their infancy, our secondary focus pertains to a discussion of the various parameters that they identify, and how they add to scientific knowledge. We conclude that until we conduct more field experiments that build a bridge between the lab and the naturally-occurring settings of interest we cannot begin to make strong conclusions empirically on the crucial question of generalizability from the lab to the field.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17957.

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Date of creation: Mar 2012
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Publication status: published as Al-Ubaydli, Omar, and John A. List, On the generalizability of experimental results in economics, In Frechette, G. & Schotter, A., Methods of Modern Experimental Economics, Oxford University Press, 2013.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17957
Note: PE
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  1. John A. List, 2003. "Does Market Experience Eliminate Market Anomalies?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 41-71, February.
  2. John List, 2004. "Neoclassical theory versus prospect theory: Evidence from the marketplace," Framed Field Experiments 00174, The Field Experiments Website.
  3. David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 1993. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," NBER Working Papers 4509, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Phelps, Edmund S, 1972. "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 659-61, September.
  5. John List, 2006. "The behavioralist meets the market: Measuring social preferences and reputation effects in actual transactions," Natural Field Experiments 00300, The Field Experiments Website.
  6. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory Of Fairness, Competition, And Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868, August.
  7. James L. Heckman, 1999. "Causal Parameters and Policy Analysis in Economcs: A Twentieth Century Retrospective," NBER Working Papers 7333, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. John List, 2011. "Why economists should conduct field experiments and 14 tips for pulling one off," Artefactual Field Experiments 00089, The Field Experiments Website.
  9. repec:feb:artefa:0110 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Lise Vesterlund, 2008. "How Costly is Diversity? Affirmative Action in Light of Gender Differences in Competitiveness," Working Papers 342, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2008.
  11. Peter Bohm, 1972. "Estimating the demand for public goods: An experiment," Framed Field Experiments 00126, The Field Experiments Website.
  12. Vernon L. Smith, 1962. "An Experimental Study of Competitive Market Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 322.
  13. Falk, Armin & Heckman, James J., 2009. "Lab Experiments Are a Major Source of Knowledge in the Social Sciences," IZA Discussion Papers 4540, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. repec:feb:natura:0053 is not listed on IDEAS
  15. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
  16. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2008. "Field Experiments in Economics: The Past, The Present, and The Future," NBER Working Papers 14356, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Richard Blundell & Monica Costa Dias, 2008. "Alternative approaches to evaluation in empirical microeconomics," CeMMAP working papers CWP26/08, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  18. John A. List, 2011. "The Market for Charitable Giving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(2), pages 157-80, Spring.
  19. Kenneth I. Wolpin & Mark R. Rosenzweig, 2000. "Natural "Natural Experiments" in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(4), pages 827-874, December.
  20. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard, 1986. "Fairness as a Constraint on Profit Seeking: Entitlements in the Market," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 728-41, September.
  21. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
  22. repec:feb:artefa:0087 is not listed on IDEAS
  23. Bohm, Peter, 1972. "Estimating demand for public goods: An experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 111-130.
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