We develop a framework for difference-in-differences designs with staggered treatment adoption and heterogeneous causal effects. We show that conventional regression-based estimators fail to provide unbiased estimates of relevant estimands absent strong restrictions on treatment-effect homogeneity. We then derive the efficient estimator addressing this challenge, which takes an intuitive “imputation” form when treatment-effect heterogeneity is unrestricted. We characterize the asymptotic behavior of the estimator, propose tools for inference, and develop tests for identifying assumptions. Extensions include time-varying controls, triple-differences, and certain non-binary treatments. We show the practical relevance of these insights in a simulation study and an application. Studying the consumption response to tax rebates in the United States, we find that the notional marginal propensity to consume is between 8 and 11 percent in the first quarter — about half as large as benchmark estimates used to calibrate macroeconomic models— and predominantly occurs in the first month after the rebate.
Revisiting event study designs: robust and efficient estimation
29 April 2022
Working Paper (CWP11/22)