Absorbing Fixed Effects with estimatr

Whether analyzing a block-randomized experiment or adding fixed effects for a panel model, absorbing group means can speed up estimation time. The fixed_effects argument in both lm_robust and iv_robust allows you to do just that, although the speed gains are greatest with “HC1” standard errors. Specifying fixed effects is really simple.

library(estimatr)
lmr_out <- lm_robust(mpg ~ hp, data = mtcars, fixed_effects = ~ cyl)
lmr_out
##       Estimate Std. Error   t value  Pr(>|t|)    CI Lower    CI Upper DF
## hp -0.02403883 0.01503818 -1.598521 0.1211523 -0.05484314 0.006765475 28
lmr_out$fixed_effects
##     cyl4     cyl6     cyl8 
## 28.65012 22.68246 20.12927

Before proceeding, three quick notes:

  • Most of the speed gains occur when estimating “HC1” robust standard errors, or “stata” standard errors when there is clustering. This is because most of the speed gains come from avoiding inverting a large matrix of group dummies, but this step is still necessary for “HC2”, “HC3”, and “CR2” standard errors.
  • While you can specify multiple sets of fixed effects, such as fixed_effects = ~ year + country, please ensure that your model is well-specified if you do so. If there are dependencies or overlapping groups across multiple sets of fixed effects, we cannot guarantee the correct degrees of freedom.
  • For now, weighted “CR2” estimation is not possible with fixed_effects.

Speed gains

In general, our speed gains will be greatest as the number of groups/fixed effects is large relative to the number of observations. Imagine we have 300 matched-pairs in an experiment.

# Load packages for comparison
library(microbenchmark)
library(sandwich)
library(lmtest)

# Create matched-pairs dataset using fabricatr
set.seed(40)
library(fabricatr)
dat <- fabricate(
  blocks = add_level(N = 300),
  indiv = add_level(N = 2, z = sample(0:1), y = rnorm(N) + z)
)
head(dat)
##   blocks indiv z          y
## 1    001   001 1  1.4961828
## 2    001   002 0 -0.8595843
## 3    002   003 1  0.1709400
## 4    002   004 0 -0.3215731
## 5    003   005 1 -0.3037704
## 6    003   006 0 -1.4214866
# With HC2
microbenchmark(
  `base + sandwich` = {
    lo <- lm(y ~ z + factor(blocks), dat)
    coeftest(lo, vcov = vcovHC(lo, type = "HC2"))
  },
  `lm_robust` = lm_robust(y ~ z + factor(blocks), dat),
  `lm_robust + fes` = lm_robust(y ~ z, data = dat, fixed_effects = ~ blocks),
  times = 50
)
## Unit: milliseconds
##             expr       min        lq     mean    median       uq      max
##  base + sandwich 194.10038 200.90385 219.4064 207.15490 225.5228 336.4037
##        lm_robust  97.24040  99.94241 109.5323 103.62069 114.2570 159.6396
##  lm_robust + fes  63.77103  66.86570  73.8089  69.94927  79.9487 100.5207
##  neval
##     50
##     50
##     50

Speed gains are considerably greater with HC1 standard errors. This is because we need to get the hat matrix for HC2, HC3, and CR2 standard errors, which requires inverting that large matrix of dummies we previously avoided doing. HC0, HC1, CR0, and CRstata standard errors do not require this inversion.

# With HC1
microbenchmark(
  `base + sandwich` = {
    lo <- lm(y ~ z + factor(blocks), dat)
    coeftest(lo, vcov = vcovHC(lo, type = "HC1"))
  },
  `lm_robust` = lm_robust(
    y ~ z + factor(blocks),
    dat,
    se_type = "HC1"
  ),
  `lm_robust + fes` = lm_robust(
    y ~ z, 
    data = dat,
    fixed_effects = ~ blocks,
    se_type = "HC1"
  ),
  times = 50
)
## Unit: milliseconds
##             expr       min        lq      mean    median        uq
##  base + sandwich 197.30853 219.83936 249.40468 258.44806 267.88086
##        lm_robust  77.55390  83.95488 106.42622 118.16486 122.10097
##  lm_robust + fes  10.75937  12.33035  17.36222  19.95371  20.83083
##        max neval
##  362.96766    50
##  130.65616    50
##   26.22276    50