This paper evaluates the performance of different small area estimation methods using model and design-based simulation experiments. Design-based simulation experiments are carried out using the Mexican Intra Censal survey as a census of roughly 3.9 million households from which 500 samples are drawn using a two-stage selection procedure similar to that of Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) surveys. The estimation methods considered are that of Elbers, Lanjouw and Lanjouw (2003), the empirical best predictor of Molina and Rao (2010), the twofold nested error extension presented by Marhuenda et al. (2017), and finally an adaptation, presented by Nguyen (2012), that combines unit and area level information, and which has been proposed as an alternative when the available census data is outdated. The findings show the importance of selecting a proper model and data transformation so that model assumptions hold. A proper data transformation can lead to a considerable improvement in mean squared error (MSE). Results from design-based validation show that all small area estimation methods represent an improvement, in terms of MSE, over direct estimates. However, methods that model unit level welfare using only area level information suffer from considerable bias. Because the magnitude and direction of the bias is unknown ex ante, methods relying only on aggregated covariates should be used with caution, but may be an alternative to traditional area level models when these are not applicable.
ell; empirical best; nested error model; parametric bootstrap; poverty map; poverty mapping; small area estimation; twofold nested error model