Biases in Multilevel Analyses Caused by Cluster Specific Fixed Effects Imputation

Matthias Speidel, Jörg Drechsler, Joseph W. Sakshaug

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When datasets are affected by nonresponse, imputation of the missing values is a viable solution. However, most imputation routines implemented in commonly used statistical software packages do not accommodate multilevel models that are popular in education research and other settings involving clustering of units. A common strategy to take the hierarchical structure of the data into account is to include cluster-specific fixed effects in the imputation model. Still, this ad hoc approach has never been compared analytically to the congenial multilevel imputation in a random slopes setting. In this paper, we evaluate the impact of the cluster-specific fixed-effects imputation model on multilevel inference. We show analytically that the cluster-specific fixed-effects imputation strategy will generally bias inferences obtained from random coefficient models. The bias of random-effects variances and global fixed-effects confidence intervals depends on the cluster size, the relation of within- and between-cluster variance, and the missing data mechanism. We illustrate the negative implications of cluster-specific fixed-effects imputation using simulation studies and an application based on data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) in Germany.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Early online date24 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Cathie Marsh Institute


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