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Administrative Data and Economic Policy Evaluation


  • This article is based on elements on my keynote talk at the Australian Economists’ Conference held in Adelaide in September 2009. I would like to thank conference participants, in particular Deborah Cobb-Clarke, Ed Lazear, Chris Ryan and Andrew Leigh for constructive comments. I would also like to thank Claire Crawford, Costas Meghir, John Micklewright, Alfonso Miranda, Sophia Rabe-Hesketh, Marcello Sartarelli and Anna Vignoles for allowing me to draw on research I have conducted with them in my talk and/or this article. This research was supported by ESRC grant RES-576-25-0014 under the ADMIN node of the National Centre for Research Methods at the Institute of Education and the ESRC Centre for the Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy at the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

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Lorraine Dearden, Institute of Fiscal Studies and Institute of Education, University of London, 7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE, UK. Email:


This article looks at the strengths and weaknesses of using administrative data for economic policy evaluation. It does this by looking at how school administrative data have been used to assess school effectiveness and the impact of month of birth on educational outcomes with varying degrees of success. It concludes that if there is some natural experiment in the way that education is delivered or an education initiative is introduced, then schools’ administrative data offer the opportunity of answering questions of extreme policy interest in a robust way – even without rich background information on the students and their families.

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