If OLS estimator is unbiased and consistent, what does it imply about the distribution of error terms?

In linear regression model: $ y_i = \boldsymbol{x_i' \beta} + \epsilon_i $ if the OLS estimator of $\boldsymbol{\beta}$ is unbiased and consistent, what are the implications for the distribution of $\epsilon_i$? Mainly, does it imply that the distribution is symmetric?

  • $\begingroup$ No, symmetry is not required, only that $\mathbb{E}\epsilon_i = 0$ and that $X$ and $\epsilon$ are independent (actually, I believe the latter is stronger than required.) A finite variance is not required, but of course the existence of the expectation is. $\endgroup$
    – jbowman
    Nov 23, 2019 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


Let's write out the expression for $\hat{\beta}_{OLS}$:

$$\hat{\beta}_{OLS} = (X^TX)^{-1}X^Ty = (X^TX)^{-1}X^T(X\beta+\epsilon) = \beta+(X^TX)^{-1}X^T\epsilon$$


$$\mathbb{E}\hat{\beta}_{OLS} = \mathbb{E}[\beta+(X^TX)^{-1}X^T\epsilon]$$

If $X$ and $\epsilon$ are independent, $\mathbb{E}(X^TX)^{-1}X^T\epsilon = (X^TX)^{-1}X^T\mathbb{E}\epsilon$, so, rewriting,

$$\mathbb{E}\hat{\beta}_{OLS} = \beta + (X^TX)^{-1}X^T\mathbb{E}\epsilon$$

and all that is left for unbiasedness is that $\mathbb{E}\epsilon = 0$.

This can obviously be weakened somewhat by noting that as long as $\mathbb{E}(X^TX)^{-1}X^T\epsilon = 0$, we will have unbiasedness, but the assumption that this holds when $\mathbb{E}\epsilon = 0$ does not is typically hard to check or justify, although it can occur.

Symmetry does not appear anywhere in this derivation, nor does the existence or finiteness of of $\sigma^2_{\epsilon}$.

  • $\begingroup$ Math is undeniable. But I was conceptually expecting a symmetric distribution because the average square error function is symmetric. I think it is a happy case of linearity. $\endgroup$ Nov 23, 2019 at 18:27

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