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QUALITATIVE AND MIXED-METHODS RESEARCH IN ECONOMICS: SURPRISING GROWTH, PROMISING FUTURE

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Abstract

Qualitative research in economics has traditionally been unimportant compared to quantitative work. Yet there has been a small explosion in use of quantitative approaches in the past 10–15 years, including ‘mixed-methods’ projects which use qualitative and quantitative methods in combination. This paper surveys the growing use of qualitative methods in economics and closely related fields, aiming to provide economists with a useful roadmap through major sets of qualitative methods and how and why they are used. We review the growing body of economic research using qualitative approaches, emphasizing the gains from using qualitative- or mixed-methods over traditional ‘closed-ended’ approaches. It is argued that, although qualitative methods are often portrayed as less reliable, less accurate, less powerful and/or less credible than quantitative methods, in fact, the two sets of methods have their own strengths, and how much can be learned from one type of method or the other depends on specific issues that arise in studying the topic of interest. The central message of the paper is that well-done qualitative work can provide scientifically valuable and intellectually helpful ways of adding to the stock of economic knowledge, especially when applied to research questions for which they are well suited.

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