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 242.04611 247.56550 254.68954 251.32928 260.18676
##        lm_robust  87.61437  91.55118  98.29878  94.65921  97.75734
##  lm_robust + fes  52.71762  55.06797  56.83259  56.17130  58.21023
##        max neval
##  353.19066    50
##  207.22189    50
##   64.31319    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 239.835320 246.27652 251.49126 249.50341 252.95621
##        lm_robust  74.000562  76.98613  80.49896  79.47304  81.56030
##  lm_robust + fes   9.810752  10.50484  11.27301  10.80858  11.41249
##        max neval
##  322.15485    50
##  142.66057    50
##   16.27181    50