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The Pre-Program Earnings Dip and the Determinants of Participation in a Social Program: Implications for Simple Program Evaluation Strategies

  • James J. Heckman
  • Jeffrey A. Smith

The key to estimating the impact of a program is constructing the counterfactual outcome representing what would have happened in its absence. This problem becomes more complicated when agents self-select into the program rather than being exogenously assigned to it. This paper uses data from a major social experiment to identify what would have happened to the earnings of self-selected participants in a job training program had they not participated in it. We investigate the implications of these earnings patterns for the validity of widely-used before-after and difference-in-differences estimators. Motivated by the failure of these estimators to produce credible estimates, we investigate the determinants of program participation. We find that labor force status dynamics, rather than earnings or employment dynamics, drive the participation process. Our evidence suggests that training programs often function as a form of job search. Methods that control only for earnings dynamics, like the conventional difference-in-differences estimator, do not adequately capture the underlying differences between participants and non-participants. We use the estimated probabilities of participation in both matching estimators and a nonparametric, conditional version of the differences-in-differences estimator and produce large reductions in the selection bias in non-experimental estimates of the effect of training on earnings.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6983.

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Date of creation: Feb 1999
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Publication status: published as Economic Journal, Vol. 109, no. 457 (1999): 313-348.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6983
Note: LS PE
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  1. Heckman, James J, 1979. "Sample Selection Bias as a Specification Error," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(1), pages 153-61, January.
  2. Heckman, James J. & Smith, Jeffrey A., 2003. "The Determinants of Participation in a Social Program: Evidence from a Prototypical Job Training Program," IZA Discussion Papers 798, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Orley Ashenfelter & David Card, 1984. "Using the Longitudinal Structure of Earnings to Estimate the Effect of Training Programs," Working Papers 554, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  4. James J. Heckman, 1977. "Dummy Endogenous Variables in a Simultaneous Equation System," NBER Working Papers 0177, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Bassi, Laurie J, 1984. "Estimating the Effect of Training Programs with Non-Random Selection," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 66(1), pages 36-43, February.
  6. James Heckman & Neil Hohmann & Jeffrey Smith, 1998. "Substitution and Dropout Bias in Social Experiments: A Study of an Influential Social Experiment," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 9819, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  7. James Heckman & Hidehiko Ichimura & Jeffrey Smith & Petra Todd, 1998. "Characterizing Selection Bias Using Experimental Data," NBER Working Papers 6699, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. James J. Heckman & Jeffrey A. Smith, 1998. "Evaluating the Welfare State," NBER Working Papers 6542, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. LaLonde, Robert J, 1986. "Evaluating the Econometric Evaluations of Training Programs with Experimental Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 604-20, September.
  10. Ashenfelter, Orley C, 1978. "Estimating the Effect of Training Programs on Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 60(1), pages 47-57, February.
  11. Heckman, James J & Ichimura, Hidehiko & Todd, Petra, 1998. "Matching as an Econometric Evaluation Estimator," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 65(2), pages 261-94, April.
  12. James Heckman, 1997. "Instrumental Variables: A Study of Implicit Behavioral Assumptions Used in Making Program Evaluations," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 32(3), pages 441-462.
  13. Heckman, James J & Ichimura, Hidehiko & Todd, Petra E, 1997. "Matching as an Econometric Evaluation Estimator: Evidence from Evaluating a Job Training Programme," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(4), pages 605-54, October.
  14. 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.
  15. Heckman, James J. & Robb, Richard Jr., 1985. "Alternative methods for evaluating the impact of interventions : An overview," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1-2), pages 239-267.
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