Statistical Approaches for Non-parametric Frontier Models: A Guided Tour



A rich theory of production and analysis of productive efficiency has developed since the pioneering work by Tjalling C. Koopmans and Gerard Debreu. Michael J. Farrell published the first empirical study, and it appeared in a statistical journal (Journal of the Royal Statistical Society), even though the article provided no statistical theory. The literature in econometrics, management sciences, operations research and mathematical statistics has since been enriched by hundreds of papers trying to develop or implement new tools for analysing productivity and efficiency of firms. Both parametric and non-parametric approaches have been proposed. The mathematical challenge is to derive estimators of production, cost, revenue or profit frontiers, which represent, in the case of production frontiers, the optimal loci of combinations of inputs (like labour, energy and capital) and outputs (the products or services produced by the firms). Optimality is defined in terms of various economic considerations. Then the efficiency of a particular unit is measured by its distance to the estimated frontier. The statistical problem can be viewed as the problem of estimating the support of a multivariate random variable, subject to some shape constraints, in multiple dimensions. These techniques are applied in thousands of papers in the economic and business literature. This ‘guided tour’ reviews the development of various non-parametric approaches since the early work of Farrell. Remaining challenges and open issues in this challenging arena are also described. © 2014 The Authors. International Statistical Review © 2014 International Statistical Institute