Estimating the gravity model when zero trade flows are frequent and economically determined uri icon


  • Since the 1950s, we have known that the presence of zero-valued dependent variables can seriously bias econometric estimates whether the zeros are included or excluded. Yet the widely-used gravity model is frequently estimated on samples that include large fractions of zeros. An influential paper by Santos Silva and Tenreyro - based on simulations that include no economically-determined zeros - concludes that the bias problems resulting from zeros and those resulting from heteroscedasticity and nonlinearity can be solved using the Poisson Pseudo-Maximum-Likelihood (PPML) model including the zero values. This paper begins by adapting the Santos Silva and Tenreyro experimental design to include economically-determined zeros to see whether this conclusion continues to hold. With this design, it finds that alternative estimators have lower bias than PPML. Changing to a Monte Carlo design that replicates the much-higher real-world frequency of predicted values near zero restores the finding of lower bias with the PPML estimator. The results highlight the need for very careful design of Monte Carlo experiments when evaluating alternative estimators of the gravity model.

publication date

  • 2020
  • 2015