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Section 2.3 no. 64 QUANTITATIVE CROSS-NATIONAL RESEARCH METHODS Gosta Esping-Andersen CPIS Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Adam Przeworski Department of Political Science New York University Trade-offs in Quantitative Comparisons Quantitative nation comparisons pose inevitable trade-offs. One is that much of the contextual reality of individual nations is sacrificed for the sake of broader generalization. We fail to capture the uniqueness that defines a nation’s culture, historical heritage, and endemic logic. The interpretation of a variable may, indeed, only be possible when its is studied contextually (Ragin, 1987; and Lieberson, 1991). Boolean analysis, as Ragin argues, helps overcome this dilemma. It has advantages, such as its ability to build conjunctural models with very few cases, and its ability to analyze non-events. But it needs to be guided by strong theory and substantial knowledge, its applicability is limited to relatively few cases, and it may be too biased in favor of non-additive, conjunctural models. For an empirical application, see Ragin (1994). See also Section 2.3, no. 72. A second trade-off has to do with the often limited number of observations available, especially in studies of advanced (OECD) democracies where the N rarely exceeds 25. In broader World comparisons, however, the N approaches 200. Many attempt to supplement few nations with over-time data, as in the case of pooled cross sectional and time series analyses. As ever longer data series for individual countries become available, the small N problem will gradually diminish. A 20 year time series for 20 countries yields 400 observations; a 20 year time series for 200 nations yields 4000. The most serious small N problem, then, occurs where for theoretical or other reasons, the natural universe is limited. Small samples do not necessarily pose problems of statistical inference. Strong theory may not require many observations. They do, however, limit what statistical tools can be brought to bear. Fearon (1991 ) argues that the smaller the N, the greater the need to make counterfactuals explicit – in other words, to tighten the theoretical formulation about the precise conditions that will (or will not) produce an outcome. Vague theory implies uncertainty about the number of contending explanations (which can grow very large) and about their mutual relationship within a causal order. The consequence is possible multi-collinearity and, more generally, large error terms – all of which can only be managed by having more observations. Hence, it is likely that estimations will yield non-robust results. The less ambiguous the theory, the less the need for large N’s. Small N’s are therefore an especially acute problem in disciplines without a firm theoretical architecture, like Sociology or Political Science.

2 Western (1998a) and Western and Jackman (1994) argue that Bayesian estimation. There are. the consequences are the same. we need not present them here. nonetheless. can be easily identified in terms of their nationhood. The standard model when the dependent variable is multinomial is Pr (Y=j ⏐ X=x) = F(xβ). whether the dependent variable is qualitative or limited. contrasting conventional regression with Bayesian estimation. Przeworski et. by allowing for greater uncertainty. and explanations are many. and it cannot fall below its minimum when these variables tend to infinity. on selection bias. Diagnostics on small samples can approach the advantages of in-depth case studies. see Firebaugh (1995). see Western (1996). For a critique. op. The choice whether to measure a variable in a qualitative or continuous way is often controversial. it remains that the value on the dependent variable cannot exceed its maximum when the independent variable(s) tend to infinity. 1997). at best. (in press) prefer to treat regimes dichotomously or mulitnomially.al. argue that difficulties in classiying some political regimes speak in favor of using continuous scales because “Dichotomizing democracy blurs distinctions between borderline cases”. In contrast.1. Linear models. Qualitative and Limited Dependent Variables Many dependent variables in cross-national research are either qualitative (assuming discrete values) or limited (they assume continues values within some range). for example.cit) or 1-100 (as does Bollen. A set of systematic outliers. Whether we give political regimes the values of 0-1 (as do Przeworski et. problems inherent in quantitative national comparisons that are both more generic and potentially more serious than the small N problem. produces more robust results when N’s are few. can provide an approximation within some range of the independent variables. The remainder of our presentation will focus on qualitative and limited dependent variables. for an empirical application. Bollen and Jackman (1989: 612). the need to use non-linear models. namely. Since such models are treated by any standard textbook (such as Greene. . Yet. because a limited nation-sample implies that the researcher can far more easily gain maximum advantage from diagnostic scrutiny of the residual plots.al.…. Small N’s can even hold advantages. where j= 0.J-1 and F is the cummulative distribution function. for example. 1980). and any good comparativist should be able to pin down what variable(s) drives their deviance from the fitted regression line. Such models can be applied to panel data unless the number of repeated observations is large. and on the problem of endogeneity of variables. on lack of independence between observations. theory vague.

where the hypothesis is that y = f(x). and Poisson distributions. Alternatives would be semi.3. which was until recently computationally expensive. dt → 0 Most often. no. or a policy adoption. The Problem of Selection Bias In comparative research we are often interested in the effect of some systemic feature. where S (t) is the survival function. The general model is Pr [Y(t+dt)=j] = f[y(t). we refer to standard textbooks for details. namely the irrelevance of independent alternatives.e. The Poisson distribution should be favored when the events are rare. in turn. x(t) β]. Weibul. nevertheless. Methods for studying qualitative dependent variables are now standard textbook fare. or the effect of electoral rules on the number of political parties. 2 See Section 2. The distributions which are commonly used in estimating survival models include the exponential. and F (t) is the cdf. regime transition. Examples include the effect of labor market institutions on unemployment. that rarely holds in practice (Schmertmann. but this just means they occur with a low probability. The difficulty here is that it is very difficult to statistically distinguish between such distributions (with the exception of the Weibull and exponential). but what warrants emphasis is that the traditional distinction between ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ research is becoming increasingly obsolete. The generic problem is how to isolate the effects of X and Z on Y. such models can be conveniently estimated as log S (t) = log [1-F(t)].and non-parametric methods. requires computing multiple integrals. Phenomena such as social revolutions may be rare. the question is how some feature of X affects some outcomes Y in the presence of conditions Z. For multinomial variables. For dichotomous dependent variables. and standard statistical methods can be used. If sampling is exogenous (i. . logistic. But if pr (Y= y |z) 1 2 For an example. In such cases. 1994). 53. the pr (Y=y |z) = pr (y). be studied systematically using maximum likelihood methods. or PR (Y | X. or the probability that an event lasts beyond time t.3 ‘Event history analysis’ is one particular class of non-linear models applied in crossnational research. the effect of political regimes on economic growth.Z). Multinomial probit. it is often assumed that the errors are independent across the values of the dependent variable. which leads to a logit specification. 1 In such models the dependent variable is an event. But this implies a strong assumption. see Usui (1994) Again. such as a revolution. They can. institution. the probability of observing any y is independent of z). logit and probit give very similar results. or policy on some outcome.

We must think in terms of a ‘super-population’ consisting of a continuum of potential cases. The comparativist in such a case would proceed quasi-experimentally. We do not observe. For what do we know when we observe Chile as a dictatorship in 1985? We observe the fact that. To assess the effect of political regimes. and their expected values. Z) and P(Y=y | x=k. this is not necessary. This cannot be answered with the available observations because Chile in 1985 was indeed a dictatorship. if we want to know the impact on y of being in states x. The problem raised by non-random selection is how to make inferences from what we observe to what we do not. we face under-identification. We do not know what this value is and. Whatever the underlying selection mechanism. The issue is one of counterfactual observations: the rate of growth that an observation with Z = zi . 3 Note that in our example X assumes only two values. generically.4 is different under different conditions Z. We also know its rate of economic growth. 1995). We observe Chile in 1985 (Z). however. the second is the distribution of Y in the entire population if all cases were observed as democracies.2.26. Clearly. given conditions Z. given that it is a dictatorship under conditions Z. What we need to know are two distributions. It may seem strange to refer to the ‘population’ as including unobserved cases. in which case per capita income declined at the rate of Y= -2.k = 0. which was a dictatorship (X). P(Y=y | x=j. 3 We observed this case as X = j. but must also imagine the possibility that it would have been X ≠ j. no. and this implies that our inferences will be biased. conditional on z. perhaps. measurement error) may be common to both variables.…. some unobservable factors (say ‘enlightened leadership’ or. .1. its rate of growth as a democracy under conditions Z. the Chilean regime (X) is a dictatorship.N. observed under dictatorship. It is a problem of identification (Manski. In this way one would compare an authoritarian with a democratic ‘Chile’. To exemplify the problem: suppose we want to know the impact of political regimes on economic growth. and look for a case that matches Chile in all aspects except authoritarianism. But. sampling is endogenous and the assumptions of the standard statistical model are violated. we need to know what would have been the rate of growth (Y) in Chile had it been a democracy. But in order to compare the effects of states x on the performance of an individual case characterized by a zi . where we now think of the possible values of X more generally as j. we must allow the case to be potentially observable under the full range of X. would have had under democracy. the basic consequence is that there will be cases without a match. Z). But what if Chile’s status as a dictatorship in 1985 was due to some factors that also affected its economic performance? This could be because growth itself influences the survival of regimes.3. a country’s level of development may be associated both with regime selection and growth. For a detailed treament. hence. we need to determine the difference between these two distributions. 87. 1989: 45). The actual sample is then regarded as having been drawn by ‘nature’ from this super-population (Pudney. see Section 2. The first is the distribution of Y in the entire population if all cases were observed as dictatorships.

but once the observed variables Z are controlled for it vanishes. any multivariate combination (xi. Since we know that Yj is observed when x=j. The methods to correct for selection bias consist of constructing counterfactuals. the variable that is omitted is the expected value of the error in the equation that specifies how the observations are selected into the sample: Pr (x=j) = F(Zα) + u. Selection on observables occurs when the expected covariance E (uju | z) ≠ 0. the regressions y = f(x. 1986). Now note that the regression coefficient σju = cov (uju)/var (uj). E (u | x=j) = λj. Finally.z) suffer from omitted variable bias. we distinguish first between selection on observables and on unobservables. when sampling is not random. zi). Following Heckman (1988). zi) and (xi = k. If selection is exclusively . z) = zβj + σju λj . If selection is on unobservables. Where we have non-random selection. We can now see why controlling for the variables that enter both into selection and outcome equations may indeed worsen the selection bias (Achen. or the hazard rates. Following Heckman (1979). we can write the expected values in the observed sample as E (yj | x=j. so that E (uju | z) = 0. When such regressions are estimated on the basis of the observed sample. In short. then E (uj | x) = σjuE (u | x). the coefficient on the omitted variable will be larger and the bias will be exacerbated. But if sampling is endogenous. the expected values of the observed cases will be biased because they covary with the variable which determines which cases are observed. quasi-experimental comparisons fail regardless of the number of observations. there will be some cases without a ‘match’: some of the xi ‘s will not have support. to ‘control’ for z the effects of x on y. the variable λj is omitted from the specification. that is. If the sample is exogenous. zi) can be drawn with a positive probability. If E (uj | x=j) ≠ 0. where the λj ‘s are the inverse Mill ratios. of filling the unobserved supports of the distribution Y for all X. Note that if this equation is estimated on the basis of the observed sample.5 If the actual population is an exogenous sample of the potential one. controlling for some variable x in the outcome equation may reduce the error variance uj without equally reducing the covariance uju. that is. we can ‘match’ pairs (xi = j. Such exogenous sampling allows us to isolate the effect of x on y given z. Selection is on unobservables when E (uju) ≠ 0 and E (uju | z) ≠ 0. where σju is a regression coefficient of uj on u. which means that controlling for the factors observed by the investigator does not remove the covariance between the errors in the outcome and the selection equations. Hence.

for Belgium and the Netherlands and. We know that the Scandinavian countries have a similar and shared history. The same goes for Austria and Germany. Others have found that some estimation methods fail to correct for this bias and may even exacerbate it (Stolzenberg and Relles. therefore. in some instances. statistical dependency cannot be resolved at all. this bias can be corrected by traditional controlling techniques. but are highly sensitive to relatively minor changes in assumptions about distributions (Goldberger. such controls only worsen the bias. But if it is on unobservables. arguably. This should not be assumed. Confucianism has had a pervasive influence throughout the region. for all the Anglosaxon nations. Similar stories are easily told for Latin America and Africa. 1990). But then a revolution would not have been necessary. the reason might be that they occur only in countries where it is difficult to change society. Cross-sectional analysis almost invariably assumes that nations and their properties (say budgets or institutions) are independent one of the other. 1991). As Heckman (1988: 7) argues. When de Toqueville concluded that revolutions do not bring about social change. unequal error variance (heteroskadisticity). The logic of the problem is similar whether we study large or small N’s (Fearon. It is possible that a revolution in a country where social relations are easier to change would have provoked change. Even when N=1. the quandary we face is that different methods of correcting for selection bias are robust if there is no bias to begin with. Is country A ‘s performance truly independent of what happens in country B? Is what happens at t+1 independent of events in t? Usually not. When nations form families. and this implies the need for corrective procedures. very probably. thus creating similar institutions and path dependencies. Sweden alone will drive the regression line in just about any . The Problem of Independence Statistical inference must assume that the observations on a variable are independent one of the other. however. as in all cases of comparison the problem remains and it should.6 on observables. deliberately learning from each other through centuries. if there is. there is no guarantee that the methods are robust. Comparativists who conduct case studies cannot benefit from statistical distributions to generate the counterfactuals. Yet. be standard practice to ask counterfactual questions of one’s case or cases. the issue of selection bias does not disappear: The French revolution in 1789 may have been caused by the same conditions that made social change so difficult. It has been found that corrections for selection are not robust. we are likely to get biased coefficients and. World samples have a similar problem: Japan’s long hegemony in East Asia will have influenced Korean society. If the World is a set of nation clusters. In most cases. The issue is captured in Castles’ (1993) ‘families of nations’. Correcting for selection bias is not uncontroversial. the real N is not 20-odd OECD countries or 150-odd World nations. rigorous correction will entail that the de facto N (nations or years) diminishes. but are treated as if they were all unique and independent. 1983).

Time-series are meant to capture historical process. 1994b.al (1998) for an application to maximum likelihood estimation. can correct for temporal and cross-sectional dependency one at a time. 1994a. a huge recent literature on the impact of labor market ‘rigidities’ on unemployment: regulations vary across nations but also across time because of deregulatory legislation (see for example Nickell. and when also Denmark and Norway are treated as discrete observations. panel regressions will require so much correction against dependency that the hard-won additional degrees of freedom . There is. no solution exists. especially in studies of the limited group of advanced (OECD) societies. Pooling cross-sectional with time series data (panel regressions) has become very widespread. Panel models are especially problematic because they can contain simultaneous diachronic and spatial interdependence and. the bias is multiplied in so far as all three in reality form part of the same political economy (‘Scandinavia’). Such can be corrected by. Panel models can be based on two types of theoretical justification. The standard assumption is a first-order (AR1) serial correlation. as exemplified by Alvarez et. where N’s are very small. and the results may therefore not be robust (Hicks. and the auto-correlation element will be split into the years preceding and following the break. See also Beck et. the two may interact. for example. the panel design is chiefly cross-sectional (more nations than years). (1991). One attempt to estimate comparative models in which it is presumed that nations cluster can be found in Esping-Andersen (1999). In many cases. is that the rho is likely to combine theoretically relevant information as well as unknown residual autocorrelation. The problem. or Hicks and Swank. see Stimson. The consequence is that t-statistics are overestimated. The second justification. substantively. is to interpret autocorrelation as an expression of institutional or policy path dependency. they easily end up being a-historical. or EspingAndersen and Sonnberger (1991). Lack of independence in a time-series is normally taken for granted. for example. a dummy for being ‘Scandinavia’) but. adding a variable that captures the common underlying property that drives the disturbance (say. this correction absorbs precious degrees of freedom in a small N study and. The researcher can accordingly not avoid including a variable that explicitly measures path dependency. again.al. 1985). One is that events or shocks occur over time that affect the cross-sectional variance. 1997). Diffusion effects that operate between members of a nation-cluster can also result in heteroskadistic disturbance in the cross-section. Yet as Isaac and Griffin (1989) argue. but if the two interact. of course. In comparative research virtually all time-series applications are pooled with crosssections. one may as well simply compare across individual time-series estimations. amounts to reducing the three nations to one observation.1995) . De-regulation in a country should produce a break in its time series.7 welfare state analysis. 1992. The standard method for correcting contemporaneous error correlation (GLS) applies only where the t’s well exceed nations (which is rare). But. since this year’s budget or election outcome is almost inevitably related to last year’s budget or the previous election. others are temporally dominated (as in the case of Hicks. not often exploited. as do Abraham and Hausman (1994). and Iversen and Wren (1998). the rho must be treated as a variable. If we insist on faithful adherance to the real World. for a discussion. Beck and Katz . In this instant. The Beck and Katz (1995) procedure. errors underestimated. worse.

There are two particular cases where the lack of independence among observations simply prohibits adequate estimation. Of course. Nieuwbeerta and Ultee (1999) have. The Endogeneity Problem All probabilistic statistics require conditional independence. global shocks or European Union membership do not necessarily produce similar effects on the dependent variable across nations or time. especially Western (1998b). For an application to nation comparisons. 1987). In Beck and Katz’ (1995) re-estimations of the Hicks and Swank (1992) study. existing cross-national correlations will strenthen and we may. Such intractable problems are certainly much more severe in small-N comparisons. so will most likely the impact of a global shock on. The first. are far between.3. estimated a three level (nation. A second alternative. And how many can truthfully claim that time and country dependencies do not interact? Indeed. such as revolutions. Usui (1994) and. or even welfare reforms. The second is when ‘globalization’ penetrates all nations and when many nations (such as the European Union) become subsumed under identical constraints. see Goldstein. in particular when the dependent variable is categorical. The endogeneity problem is one aspect of the broader question of selection bias discussed . unless we already know how the lag structure will differ according to institutional variation. See also Section 2. time sequencing (states and events) is actively modelled and thus gains analytic status. One alternative is to construct multi-level models which explicitly take into account the possibility that nations may ‘cluster’ (for an overview. is to exploit the advantages of event history analysis. the addition or subtraction of a year here or there. or policies is interdependent. and this is reflected in the prevailing lack of robustness that is endemic in the ‘OECD area’ literature. for example. here the time series needs to be quite long considering that theoretically interesting events. In the event history context. the inclusion or exclusion of one country. say. A marginal difference in measurement. 4. Here we would specify interaction effects. no. or the substitution of one variable for another. If nations’ institutional filters differ. to give an example. noted above. but that would be impossible in a pure cross-section. see Strang (1994). and extremely difficult in a time series. indeed be moving towards an N=1. can change the entire model. But rather than having to manipulate autocorrelation. time. most sensible comparativists would assume they do: if nations form part of families it should also be the case that the timing of their shocks. But. and individual) model of the impact of class on party choice within the context of nations’ social mobility structure. events. namely that the values of the predictor variables are assigned independently of the dependent variable. which brings it much closer to traditional time series analysis. which also can stand as an exemplar of how to minimize the interdependency problem. In this instance. 53. occurs when time and nation dependencies interact. democratization.8 that come with a time-series are easily eaten up. national unemployment rates. The basic problem of endogeneity occurs when the explanans (X) may be influenced by the explanandum (Y) or both may be jointly influenced by an unmeasured third. several key variables turned out insignificant. analytical priority is usually given to temporal change.

the obvious . if Sweden’s cultural past overdetermines its unique kind of social democracy and social policy. if ever. If this kind of endogeneity exists. 1975. Our variables are in effect a partial reflection of the society under study. address such endogeneity problems. issue arises in the interpretation of coefficient estimations. The same goes for welfare state comparisons with their belief that demography and left power are fully exogenous and conditionally unitary (for example. across-the-board effect irrespective of national context. ways of correcting for the endogeneity bias. But are we certain that left power. not necessarily efficient. the X’s are assumed to have an identical impact on Y. the two social democracies are two different beasts. comparativists often argue that left power explains welfare state development. is not a function of strong welfare states? Or. In this case. phenomenon? Would Sweden have had the same welfare state even without its legendary social democratic tradition? Perhaps. whose effects on employment is conditionally identical whether it is Germany. If Denmark had 5 points more left power. itself. Pampel and Williamson. A related. the bias remains equally problematic whether we study few or many N’s. General overviews of the endogeneity problem can be found in Manski (1995) and King. economic development or for coordinated bargaining can only be interpreted in one way: as a constant.9 earlier. 1988. say a bargaining institution or party power balance. are both large welfare states and left power just two faces of the same coin. See also Section 2. Can we really accept such assumptions? Probably not. the true X for Sweden is not left power but a full list of all that is ‘Sweden’. In fixed-effects panel regressions. There exist several. If we have some incling that the bias comes from variable ommission. 1989). different manifestations of one underlying. that is.3. 1999). and the meaning of a variable score for one nation may not be metrically equivalent to that of another – a weighted left cabinet score of 35 for Denmark and 40 for Sweden probably misrepresents the Danish-Swedish difference if. Studies of labor market or economic performance routinely presume that labor market regulations or bargaining centralization are truly exogenous variables. In the simple cross-sectional regression. The reason that we cannot is that it is difficult to assume that variables. Hicks and Kenworthy. monotonically identical. For example. Norway or the United States (well-known examples are Calmfors and Driffill. The vector of the X’s becomes a list of all that is nationally unique. no. Quantitative national comparisons rarely. will produce homogenous. The endogeneity issue has been intensely debated within the economic growth literature in terms of the causal relationship between technology and growth. 88. But it applies equally to many fields. its welfare state should match the Swedish (all else held constant). effects across nations for the simple reason that they are embedded in a more complex reality (called nation) which has also given rise to its version of the dependent variable. equally likely. the coeffient for left power. irrespective of country. and equally problematic.. The endogeneity problem becomes easily intractable in quantitative cross-national research because we observe variables ( Y’s and X’s) that represent part of the reality of the nations we sample. Keohane and Verba (1994). Wilensky. it will not disappear if we add more nations. yet undefined.

Berkeley. European Economic Review. cross-section data. 85: 539-56 Amemyia T 1985 Advanced Econometrics.10 correction entails the inclusion of additional controls. University of Chicago Press. AJPS. the best solution in such a situation is to concentrate more on the theoretical elaboration of causal relations between variables. If bias can be assumed to come from the assumption of monotonically homogeneous effects of the X across all nations. Social Portection versus Economic Flexibility. The welfare state literature provides a proto-typical example: aggregate social expenditure was increasingly replaced by measures of specific welfare state traits. no matter how many. Achen C H 1986 The Statistical Analysis of Quasi-Experiments. labor organization. If we can assume that our estimations are biased because Y affects the values on X. University of California Press. An example of this kind was Jackman’s (1986) argument that Norway’s North Sea Oil was over-determining the results in the Lange and Garrett (1985) study. Small N studies with strong endogeneity have little capacity to extend the number of potentially neccessary controls. 1987. Mass: Harvard University Beck N and Katz J 1995 What to do (and not to do) with times-series. Garrett G. 42: 1260-88. Blossfeld H P. . Cambridge. and macroeconomic performance. 1: 65-89. Bibliography: Abraham K G and Hausman S N 1994 Does employment protection inhibit labour market flexibility? Pp 59-94 in Blank R. Katz J. and Tucker R 1998 Taking time seriously: time series-cross-section analysis with a binary dependent variable. on-the-job search and unemployment duration. Controls. As discussed above. or because both are jointly attributable to a third underlying force. will however not resolve the problem under conditions of strong sampling bias. 89: 634-47 Beck N . ed. and Lange P 1991 Government partisanship. Boeri T 1999 Enforcement of employment security regulations. thinking in counterfactual terms (‘would Sweden’s welfare state be the same without Sweden’s social democracy’) will force the researcher to identify more precisely the direct or derived causal connections (Lieberson. narrowing Y. Fearon. the researcher’s attention should concentrate on identifying more precisely the conditional mechanisms that are involved in the causal passage from an X to a Y (why and how will a 5 point rise in left power make the Danish welfare state converge with the Swedish?). most likely. 1991). Alvarez R. and Roehwer G. Mahwah: Erlbaum. APSR. Chicago. APSR. 1995 Techniques of Event History Modelling: New Approaches to Causal Analysis. A second approach is to limit endogeneity in X by re-conceptualizing and.

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