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 225.93166 232.29095 236.23129 233.18270 237.57280
##        lm_robust  86.45608  88.01596  91.90158  89.52613  92.08503
##  lm_robust + fes  51.17808  51.81372  55.13087  52.31654  53.81560
##       max neval
##  308.9406    50
##  173.4815    50
##  147.1458    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 225.479068 231.296161 234.46204 232.39763 235.66709
##        lm_robust  71.678891  73.601955  77.31817  74.53205  78.13631
##  lm_robust + fes   8.931525   9.749237  10.54445  10.06508  10.35770
##        max neval
##  304.87452    50
##  149.29528    50
##   15.68867    50