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 187.96590 195.35559 208.74518 199.32343 209.55099
##        lm_robust  79.70901  82.08865  87.66793  84.16803  86.63896
##  lm_robust + fes  44.77912  46.04134  53.91802  47.87909  50.24418
##       max neval
##  332.6788    50
##  158.8674    50
##  166.5931    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 193.774441 199.27979 207.23697 203.35366 207.67662
##        lm_robust  68.119831  71.04221  73.57887  72.74155  74.83757
##  lm_robust + fes   9.729048  10.10144  12.55408  10.30069  10.67900
##        max neval
##  283.43759    50
##   98.15688    50
##   72.78832    50