As a quantitative analyst and armchair economist I have seen little reason to do qualitative analysis as done in the other social sciences.

However I keep running into these rather wordy analyses of economic issues (primarily from social research organisations) which are constantly pushed and presented as holding the same weight as those presented by the quant camp.

I don't want this to turn into a rant and if this question is opinionated please close it.

My question is: Where does qualitative analysis fit in formal economic research?

  • $\begingroup$ My opinion is that it fits in areas where economics delves into the ( other ) social sciences. Like economics of corruption or social norms or things like that. There are some things you cant reasonably quantify, which calls for qualitative analysis. Those are mostly in political science and sociology. But when we try to approach those questions, we must be aware of our limits. $\endgroup$
    – BB King
    Aug 17, 2017 at 5:07
  • $\begingroup$ @BBKing maybe I have my head held high as a quant guy,but I view qualitative analysis as being inherently biased this based on what I read here on the definition of qualitative analysis.classes.uleth.ca/200502/mgt2700a/Articles/… see page 6 in the PDF "Section 1: The nature of qualitative research". $\endgroup$
    – EconJohn
    Aug 17, 2017 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ "which are constantly pushed and presented as holding the same weight as those presented by the quant camp." Your premise that these are necessarily different camps is wrong. $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2017 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker they are two different camps based on my current exposure, hence the methods they employ to answer the same question. $\endgroup$
    – EconJohn
    Sep 25, 2017 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ The extremely influential mathematical economist Truman Bewley conducted interviews with firms to figure out Why Wages Don't Fall During a Recession. So qualitative methods are not restricted to those "other social sciences" $\endgroup$ Sep 26, 2017 at 8:48

1 Answer 1


Good question!

Qualitative methods (QM henceforth) have become more widespread in the recent decades, according to a 2014's survey in the Journal of Economic Surveys. QM include, among others, in-depth interviews, focus groups, case studies, ethnographic studies, and mixed-methods (quanti+quali). They are still not that popular though, and have been very often looked down by the field. This is evident from the JEL coding, which does not include a specific section for QM, but does include one for quantitative methods.

In contrast to BB King comment, these methods have been used in very hard-core economic issues like Macro (e.g. Blinder et. al. 1998), Labour Economics (e.g. Cregan 2005), International Organisation (e.g. Autor, Levy and Murnane 2002), Development Economics (e.g. Valente 2011), etc (for more examples, see Table 1 in survey above). Here is an article from an MIT economist commenting on his experience with using qualitative methods in labour economics research (excuse the fallacy of authority).

If you want to explore more, there is a 2016's book dedicated entirely to the subject. Also, Chapter 7 of this handbook focuses on QM used in Heterodox Economics.

Other references in which QM are used:


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.