Administrative data: it’s one of those phrases that can generate much excitement among economists and some other social scientists, but will never make for scintillating party conversation in any other setting.
However, the possibilities and limits on the use of administrative data for research can have a big impact on the policymaking process and raise tricky ethical questions, so it is important that the conversation is as broad as it can possibly be.
What is administrative data?
Administrative data is collected by the government for a non-research purpose.
For example, as part of my doctoral research I analyse national insurance data on jobs, wages and commuting distances in Germany.
Whenever someone starts or leaves a job, starts to claim unemployment benefits, is assigned to a jobseekers’ training programme or goes on parental or sick leave, this leaves a paper trail.
Economists in particular are very interested in this information: Many of us still subscribe to the traditional credo “Believe what people do, not what they say”. Continue reading