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Clustering and External Validity in Randomized Controlled Trials

Antoine Deeb and Clément de Chaisemartin

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Abstract: In the literature studying randomized controlled trials (RCTs), it is often assumed that the potential outcomes of units participating in the experiment are deterministic. This assumption is unlikely to hold, as stochastic shocks may take place during the experiment. In this paper, we consider the case of an RCT with individual-level treatment assignment, and we allow for individual-level and cluster-level (e.g. village-level) shocks to affect the potential outcomes. We show that one can draw inference on two estimands: the ATE conditional on the realizations of the cluster-level shocks, using heteroskedasticity-robust standard errors; the ATE netted out of those shocks, using cluster-robust standard errors. By clustering, researchers can test if the treatment would still have had an effect, had the stochastic shocks that occurred during the experiment been different. Then, the decision to cluster or not depends on the level of external validity one would like to achieve.

Date: 2019-12, Revised 2021-02
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ecm and nep-exp
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