Modelling structural zeros in compositional data

Bacon Shone, John
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This analysis was stimulated by the real data analysis problem of household expenditure data. The full dataset contains expenditure data for a sample of 1224 households. The expenditure is broken down at 2 hierarchical levels: 9 major levels (e.g. housing, food, utilities etc.) and 92 minor levels. There are also 5 factors and 5 covariates at the household level. Not surprisingly, there are a small number of zeros at the major level, but many zeros at the minor level. The question is how best to model the zeros. Clearly, models that try to add a small amount to the zero terms are not appropriate in general as at least some of the zeros are clearly structural, e.g. alcohol/tobacco for households that are teetotal. The key question then is how to build suitable conditional models. For example, is the sub-composition of spending excluding alcohol/tobacco similar for teetotal and non-teetotal households? In other words, we are looking for sub-compositional independence. Also, what determines whether a household is teetotal? Can we assume that it is independent of the composition? In general, whether teetotal will clearly depend on the household level variables, so we need to be able to model this dependence. The other tricky question is that with zeros on more than one component, we need to be able to model dependence and independence of zeros on the different components. Lastly, while some zeros are structural, others may not be, for example, for expenditure on durables, it may be chance as to whether a particular household spends money on durables within the sample period. This would clearly be distinguishable if we had longitudinal data, but may still be distinguishable by looking at the distribution, on the assumption that random zeros will usually be for situations where any non-zero expenditure is not small. While this analysis is based on around economic data, the ideas carry over to many other situations, including geological data, where minerals may be missing for structural reasons (similar to alcohol), or missing because they occur only in random regions which may be missed in a sample (similar to the durables) ​
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