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Treatment Effect Heterogeneity in Theory and Practice

  • Joshua D. Angrist

Instrumental Variables (IV) methods identify internally valid causal effects for individuals whose treatment status is manipulable by the instrument at hand. Inference for other populations requires some sort of homogeneity assumption. This paper outlines a theoretical framework that nests all possible homogeneity assumptions for a causal treatment-effects model with a binary instrument. The framework suggests strategies for using IV estimates for extrapolation, while making it clear that efforts to go from local average treatment effects (LATE) to population average treatment effects are inherently speculative. These ideas are illustrated in an application using sibling-sex composition to estimate the effect of child-bearing on economic and marital outcomes for mothers with two or more children. The application is motivated by welfare reform, which penalizes further childbearing by welfare mothers on the grounds that more children make continued poverty and welfare receipt more likely. The empirical results generally support the notion of reduced labor supply and increased poverty rates as a consequence of additional childbearing, but evidence on the impact of childbearing on marital stability and welfare use is more tenuous. Another interesting finding is that for the sample of teen mothers, LATE is essentially equal to the population average treatment effect.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9708.

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Date of creation: May 2003
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Publication status: published as Angrist, Joshua D. "Treatment Effect Heterogeneity In Theory And Practice," Economic Journal, 2004, v114(494,Mar), 52-83.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9708
Note: LS
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Bronars, Stephen G & Grogger, Jeff, 1994. "The Economic Consequences of Unwed Motherhood: Using Twin Births as a Natural Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(5), pages 1141-56, December.
  2. Angrist, J.D. & Imbens, G.W., 1991. "Sources of Identifying Information in Evaluation Models," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1568, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  3. James Heckman & Justin L. Tobias & Edward Vytlacil, 2001. "Four Parameters of Interest in the Evaluation of Social Programs," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 68(2), pages 210-223, October.
  4. Joshua Angrist, 1999. "Estimation of Limited-Dependent Variable Models with Dummy Endogenous Regressors: Simple Strategies for Empirical Practice," Working papers 99-31, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Heckman, James J, 1990. "Varieties of Selection Bias," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 313-18, May.
  6. Arellano, Manuel, 2002. "Sargan's Instrumental Variables Estimation and the Generalized Method of Moments," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(4), pages 450-59, October.
  7. Abadie A., 2002. "Bootstrap Tests for Distributional Treatment Effects in Instrumental Variable Models," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 97, pages 284-292, March.
  8. Markus Froelich, 2002. "Nonparametric IV estimation of local average treatment effects with covariates," University of St. Gallen Department of Economics working paper series 2002 2002-19, Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen.
  9. Chamberlain, Gary, 1986. "Asymptotic efficiency in semi-parametric models with censoring," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 189-218, July.
  10. Chamberlain, Gary, 1987. "Asymptotic efficiency in estimation with conditional moment restrictions," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 305-334, March.
  11. Wooldridge, Jeffrey M., 1997. "On two stage least squares estimation of the average treatment effect in a random coefficient model," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 56(2), pages 129-133, October.
  12. Jeff Grogger & Stephen G. Bronars, 1997. "The Effect of Welfare Payments on the Marriage and Fertility Behavior of Unwed Mothers: Results from a Twins Experiment," NBER Working Papers 6047, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Hausman, Jerry, 2015. "Specification tests in econometrics," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 38(2), pages 112-134.
  14. Moffitt, Robert A., 1999. "New developments in econometric methods for labor market analysis," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 24, pages 1367-1397 Elsevier.
  15. Angrist, Joshua D & Evans, William N, 1998. "Children and Their Parents' Labor Supply: Evidence from Exogenous Variation in Family Size," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(3), pages 450-77, June.
  16. Peter C.B. Phillips, 2003. "Vision and Influence in Econometrics: John Denis Sargan," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1393, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  17. 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.
  18. Rebecca M. Blank, 2002. "Evaluating Welfare Reform in the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(4), pages 1105-1166, December.
  19. Tim Heaton, 1990. "Marital stability throughout the child-rearing years," Demography, Springer, vol. 27(1), pages 55-63, February.
  20. Wooldridge, Jeffrey M., 2003. "Further results on instrumental variables estimation of average treatment effects in the correlated random coefficient model," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 185-191, May.
  21. Manski, C.F., 1989. "Nonparametric Bounds On Treatment Effects," Working papers 8909, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  22. Joshua D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens, 1995. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," NBER Technical Working Papers 0118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Alberto Abadie & Joshua Angrist & Guido Imbens, 1999. "Instrumental Variables Estimates of the Effect of Subsidized Training on the Quantiles of Trainee Earnings," Working papers 99-16, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  24. Abadie, Alberto, 2003. "Semiparametric instrumental variable estimation of treatment response models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 113(2), pages 231-263, April.
  25. Melissa Schettini Kearney, 2004. "Is There an Effect of Incremental Welfare Benefits on Fertility Behavior?: A Look at the Family Cap," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
  26. James J. Heckman & Edward J. Vytlacil, 2000. "Local Instrumental Variables," NBER Technical Working Papers 0252, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  27. J.D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens & D.B. Rubin, 1993. "Identification of Causal Effects Using Instrumental Variables," NBER Technical Working Papers 0136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  28. Becker, Gary S & Landes, Elisabeth M & Michael, Robert T, 1977. "An Economic Analysis of Marital Instability," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(6), pages 1141-87, December.
  29. Joshua D. Angrist, 1991. "Instrumental Variables Estimation of Average Treatment Effects in Econometrics and Epidemiology," NBER Technical Working Papers 0115, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  30. Andrew Cherlin, 1977. "The effect of children on marital dissolution," Demography, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 265-272, August.
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