Tobit at Fifty: A Brief History of Tobin's Remarkable Estimator, of Related Empirical Methods, and of Limited Dependent Variable Econometrics in Health Economics

Kohei Enami, John Mullahy

NBER Working Paper No. 14512
Issued in November 2008
NBER Program(s):Health Care, Health Economics

Practitioners of empirical health economics might be forgiven for paying little heed to the recent 50th anniversary of the publication of one of the most important papers in its methodological heritage: James Tobin's widely-cited 1958 Econometrica paper that developed what later became known as the Tobit estimator. This golden anniversary milestone provides a fitting opportunity to reflect on Tobin's contribution and to assess the role that econometric limited dependent variable modeling has played in empirical health economics. Of primary focus here is how Tobin's estimator came to be and came to take root in empirical health economics. The paper provides a brief history of Tobin's estimator and related methods up through about 1971, discusses the early applications of Tobit and related estimators in health economics, i.e. the "technology diffusion" of Tobit in health economics, and offers some concluding remarks.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14512

Published: Kohei Enami & John Mullahy, 2009. "Tobit at fifty: a brief history of Tobin's remarkable estimator, of related empirical methods, and of limited dependent variable econometrics in health economics," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(6), pages 619-628. citation courtesy of

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