NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Instrumental Variables Methods in Experimental Criminological Research: What, Why, and How?

Joshua Angrist

NBER Technical Working Paper No. 314
Issued in September 2005

Quantitative criminology focuses on straightforward causal questions that are ideally addressed with randomized experiments. In practice, however, traditional randomized trials are difficult to implement in the untidy world of criminal justice. Even when randomized trials are implemented, not everyone is treated as intended and some control subjects may obtain experimental services. Treatments may also be more complicated than a simple yes/no coding can capture. This paper argues that the instrumental variables methods (IV) used by economists to solve omitted variables bias problems in observational studies also solve the major statistical problems that arise in imperfect criminological experiments. In general, IV methods estimate the causal effect of treatment on subjects that are induced to comply with a treatment by virtue of the random assignment of intended treatment. The use of IV in criminology is illustrated through a re-analysis of the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment.

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