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
##  base + sandwich 192.53390 196.14178 199.52687 197.37071 199.99899
##        lm_robust  94.67917  95.94751  99.01843  96.72095  98.76878
##  lm_robust + fes  61.76987  63.22181  64.37749  63.78443  65.02980
##        max neval
##  268.39794    50
##  187.26849    50
##   68.85714    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 191.84963 195.83506 200.28222 197.28961 199.31395
##        lm_robust  73.44004  75.14432  78.04653  75.87748  77.85563
##  lm_robust + fes   9.53931  10.44261  10.89005  10.56260  10.72730
##        max neval
##  267.45093    50
##  148.01155    50
##   14.26927    50