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By Thomas Erskine May

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In some research situations, the dependent variable may be a simple dichotomy: revolutions occur or they do not (Wickham-Crowley, 1991); people vote or they do not (Gray and Caul, 2000). In other cases, the dependent variable may be a limited range of responses of governments to changing economic fortunes (Gourevitch, 1986; Taylor, 2009). In others, it may be a continuous variable, such as per capita expenditures for social welfare in a range of countries (Hicks and Swank, 1992; Gupta, 2001), that appears much more like what we usually think of as a variable.

Finally, we come to the question of whether all comparisons involving time need to use exactly the same slices of chronological time. The most appropriate comparisons for theoretical development may be made with events and structures occurring in different time periods, albeit periods that are similar in their basic characteristics. For example, the contemporary problems of modernization and democratization in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe are functionally equivalent to the problems of Western Europe in the late nineteenth century, or to immediately post-colonial Africa and Asia.

Even aggregate data may be somewhat suspect in these circumstances. For example, a measure such as gross national product may not tap adequately economic activity in any country with a large subsistence economy and a great deal of household production. Even in highly industrialized countries, there is a great deal of household production, but if it occurs at relatively equal levels across these countries then the measurement is not confounded seriously. When comparing these countries with very poor countries, however, there is marked measurement error.

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