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Machine Labor

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  • Joshua Angrist
  • Brigham Frandsen

Abstract

Machine learning (ML) is mostly a predictive enterprise, while the questions of interest to labor economists are mostly causal. In pursuit of causal effects, however, ML may be useful for automated selection of ordinary least squares (OLS) control variables. We illustrate the utility of ML for regression-based causal inference by using lasso to select control variables for estimates of effects of college characteristics on wages. ML also seems relevant for an instrumental variables (IV) first stage, since the bias of two-stage least squares can be said to be due to over-fitting. Our investigation shows, however, that while ML-based instrument selection can improve on conventional 2SLS estimates, split-sample IV and LIML estimators do better. In some scenarios, the performance of ML-augmented IV estimators is degraded by pretest bias. In others, nonlinear ML for covariate control creates artificial exclusion restrictions that generate spurious findings. ML does better at choosing control variables for models identified by conditional independence assumptions than at choosing instrumental variables for models identified by exclusion restrictions.

Suggested Citation

  • Joshua Angrist & Brigham Frandsen, 2019. "Machine Labor," NBER Working Papers 26584, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:26584
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Carrasco, Marine, 2012. "A regularization approach to the many instruments problem," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 170(2), pages 383-398.
    2. Goller, Daniel & Lechner, Michael & Moczall, Andreas & Wolff, Joachim, 2019. "Does the estimation of the propensity score by machine learning improve matching estimation? The case of Germany’s programmes for long term unemployed," Economics Working Paper Series 1910, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.
    3. Luiz M. Cruz & Marcelo J. Moreira, 2005. "On the Validity of Econometric Techniques with Weak Instruments: Inference on Returns to Education Using Compulsory School Attendance Laws," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(2).
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    5. Chao, John C. & Swanson, Norman R. & Hausman, Jerry A. & Newey, Whitney K. & Woutersen, Tiemen, 2012. "Asymptotic Distribution Of Jive In A Heteroskedastic Iv Regression With Many Instruments," Econometric Theory, Cambridge University Press, vol. 28(1), pages 42-86, February.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C21 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models
    • C26 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Instrumental Variables (IV) Estimation
    • C52 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Model Evaluation, Validation, and Selection
    • C55 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Large Data Sets: Modeling and Analysis
    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J08 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics Policies

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