Recent Perspectives on the Regression Discontinuity Design

  • Richard Berk


The regression discontinuity design was originally proposed in 1960 as a powerful alternative to randomized experiments. It has been little used since. Over the past decade, however, the design has been increasingly and successfully employed by economists in a variety of studies. In this paper, the fundamentals of the regression-discontinuity are discussed. Recent advances are emphasized.

Even in these early formulations, the design was simple and powerful. However, there were few applications and apparently only four published studies with significant crime and justice content (Berk and Rauma 1983; Berk and de Leeuw 1999; Chen and Shapiro 2007; Berk et al. 2010). Over the past 15 years, a number of economists have extended the design (Imbens and Lemieux 2008b; Imbens and Kalyanaraman 2009) and applied it in a wide variety of settings (Imbens and Lemieux 2008a; Lee and Lemieux 2009). An account of how and why interest in the regression discontinuity design has varied over the years can be found in recent paper by Thomas Cook (Cook 2008).

In this chapter, the fundamentals of the regression discontinuity design are considered. Some recent advances are highlighted. The discussion begins with brief introduction to the ways in which statisticians think about causal inference. Then, the classic regression discontinuity design is examined. Newer material follows.


Response Function Average Treatment Effect Assignment Variable Estimate Treatment Effect Assignment Rule 



Work on this paper was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation: SES-0437169, “Ensemble methods for Data Analysis in the Behavioral, Social and Economic Sciences.”


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Berk
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of StatisticsThe Wharton School, University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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