This paper assesses the empirical representativeness of micro-data by comparing the Malawi 2008 census to two representative household surveys – ‘the Living Standard Measurement Survey’ and the ‘Demographic and Health Survey’ – both implemented in Malawi in 2010. The comparison of descriptive statistics – demographics, asset ownership, and living conditions – shows considerable similarities despite statistically identifiable differences due to the large samples. Differences mainly occur when wording, scope, and pre-defined answer categories diverge across surveys. Multivariate analyses are considerably less representative due to loss of observations with composite indicators yielding higher comparability as individual ones. Household-level fixed-effect specifications produce more similar results, yet are not suited for policy conclusions. Comparability of micro-data should not be assumed but checked on a case-by-case basis. Still, micro-data constitute reliable grounds for factually informed conclusions if design and context are appropriately considered.

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The European Journal of Development Research
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Tasciotti, L., & Wagner, N. (2017). How much should we trust micro-data? A comparison of the socio-demographic profile of Malawian households using LSMS and DHS data. The European Journal of Development Research, 1–25. doi:10.1057/s41287-017-0083-6