I'm having trouble with the statistical idea of a fixed regressor, it seems that our $X_i's$ are not treated as random variables, but we are still able to meaningfully condition $Y$ on them in a way that we couldn't if $X_i$ was just the constant $c$. The fixed regressor seems to be occupying a middle ground between a random variable and a constant. I have scoured the forums for all the questions related to this but have been unable to come to a conclusion.

  • I think part of my confusion might stem from different econometrics books loose definition of the simple regression e.g. some use $Y_i = \beta_0 + \beta_1 X_i + u_i$, and make no mention of $\beta_0 + \beta_1 X_i = E(Y|X_i)$.
  • I think the mixed use between capital letters $Y, X$ and lowercase $y, x$ across texts is also not helping. (Given the very specific random variable vs observed value use in statistics generally).
  • I think i'm also getting slightly confused as to when subscript i refers to a fixed value e.g. $X_i$ vs what i assume is a particular but still random value e.g. $Y_i$

Let's take our hypothetical population regression as $Y_i = \beta_0 + \beta_1 X_i + u_i$, where $\beta_0 + \beta_1 X_i = E(Y|X_i)$ and $X_i$ is fixed, $E(u_i) = E(u_i|X_i) = 0$

1) What does it mean to take conditional expectation on a fixed $X_i$?

  • Are we saying $E(Y|X = X_i)$? i.e. $E(Y|X = x)$ where $X_i = x$ an observed value
  • i.e. $\int_{-\infty}^{\infty} y f_{Y|X}(y|X_i) dy$ where $f_{Y|X}(y|X_i) = \frac{f_{Y, X}(y, X_i)}{f_{X}(X_i)}$
  • But then if we are told our regressor $X$ is non-random how can we give it a distribution?

2) How do we take the expectation of $Y_i$ in this form?

$E(Y_i) = E[E(Y|X_i)+u_i]$

  • If $X_i$ were stochastic we would get $E(Y_i) = E(E(Y|X_i)) + E(u_i) = E(Y)$

  • If $X_i$ is non-stochastic then $E(Y|X_i)$ is just a constant? $E(Y_i) = E(E(Y|X_i)) = E(Y|X_i)$

  • However, Gujarati & Porter's Basic Econometrics 5th edition Page 34-35 goes to great lengths to highlight why this isn't the case.

  • But then in what feels like a contradiction on page 40 footnote 8 (Screenshot below) they mention "Note that $E(Y|X_i)$, once the value of $X_i$ is fixed is treated as a constant."

  • They seem to avoid this issue by taking the conditional expectation rather than non-conditional expectation.

$Y_i = E(Y|X_i) + u_i$

$E(Y_i | X_i) = E(E(Y|X_i)|X_i) + E(u_i | X_i) = E(Y|X_i) + 0$

3) Understanding $Y$ vs $Y_i$

  • Is the random variable $Y$ fully defined by the fandom process $Y = \beta_0 + \beta_1X + u$ of which particular values are written as $Y_i = \beta_0 + \beta_1X_i + u_i$?

  • Is this analogous to how we might say a sample of $Z_1...Z_n$ from a random variable $Z$ but where $Z_1...Z_n$ are still random until they become observed values $z_1...z_n$.

  • If so given that $X$ and hence $\beta_0 + \beta_1X_i$ is completely non stochastic how would we define this probability distribution $Y = f(u; X, \beta_0, \beta_1)$ I don't think this is correct because $X$ isn't really a parameter, but it's also not a random variable? So again i don't know how to deal with the fixed regressor.

  • When authors write $y_i = \beta_0 + \beta_1x_i + u_i$ using lower case $y_i, x_i$ generally are they referring to particular observed values or not e.g. Chapter 2 p.g. 27 Woolridge

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1 Answer 1


The $X$s are not treated as random variables.

Take the formulation $Y_i=\beta_0+\beta_1 x_i+U_i$ (I am changing $x$ to lowercase to emphasise it is not a random variable, and $U$ to uppercase to emphasise it is). There are only two random variables - $U_i$ (usually assumed to be a Gaussian$(0,\sigma^2)$, and $Y_i$ - a Gaussian$(\beta_0+\beta_1 x_i, \sigma^2)$ by definition.

But then if we are told our regressor $x$ is non-random how can we give it a distribution?

Example: if you have a random variable $A$ defined as $A=B+2$, where $B\sim \text{Gaussian}(0, 1)$, what is the distribution of $A$?

Now, apply the same logic to $Y_i=\beta_0+\beta_1 x_i+U_i$, keeping in mind what is random, and what is not.

^ This also answers your second question.

Regarding the subscript $i$, you can just think of it as "some value". E.g. if you have $n$ data points total, $i$ can refer to any one of those $n$ points. So $Y_1$ is the first, $Y_2$ the second, ..., $Y_i$ the $i$-th. There's not really such thing as $Y$ in this case, it's more just notational laziness.

As a more concrete example, let's say we're regressing weight $Y$ against height $x$. It is true that $X$ has some distribution. But it doesn't matter what that distribution is, because a linear regression model specifies the distribution of $Y$ given the predictors. So the model says "given a person is 170cm tall, what is their weight? Given a person is 153cm tall, what is their weight?" etc.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the answer i will digest and get back if i have any comments! $\endgroup$
    – CormJack
    Commented Mar 5 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ The thing that is confusing me about your answer, is when you say A = B + 2, isn't that analogy just proving that Y has a distribution? Which I understand. What's confusing me is that we condition on X, i.e. E(Y|X), but if x were a constant this would make no sense, but X is also not a random variable so what is going on? i.e to take the conditional expectation (conditional on X) X must have a distribution for this to make sense... Thanks in advance if you're able to provide any more insight $\endgroup$
    – CormJack
    Commented Mar 7 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ Linear models are always modelling $E[Y|X]$, or more explicitly, $E[Y|X=x]$. Since we are conditioning on $X$, this means $X$ is known and not a random variable. It doesn't matter how $X$ is distributed, because in the context of linear modelling $X$ is always known to be a value, and thus can be treated as a constant. $\endgroup$
    – Alex J
    Commented Mar 7 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ If we were modelling say $Y_i=\beta_0 + \beta_1 X_i + U_i$ where $X$ was not conditioned on, that would be another case. But $X$ is always known in linear modelling. $\endgroup$
    – Alex J
    Commented Mar 7 at 22:26

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