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Re: st: Stata vs SPSS

From   Richard Williams <>
Subject   Re: st: Stata vs SPSS
Date   Sun, 15 Oct 2006 12:30:14 -0400

At 03:47 PM 10/13/2006, Raphael Fraser wrote:
I am being persecuted by some of my students for having to learn Stata
rather than SPSS. "SPSS is so easy to use" they say. "Why do we have
to type every thing?" one student complained. This is always the case
in my Intro to Stata classes but at the end of the course they show
much appreciation for learning Stata especially when they have to do
data manipulation. But this year is different. There is a student
rebellion. They see me as a "Stata Dictator" and is desirous of
"Democracy." So I have decided to be more "diplomatic" with a Stata vs
SPSS comparison.
Interesting to hear some of the comments that have come out. I myself have never had to produce 102 esoterically formatted tables; for me outreg2 and estout are more than adequate for my needs, although obviously this is a problem for others. I've always suspected that SPSS and SAS devote 90% of their code to user interface and formatting output, and I can see why based on some of these comments.

However, I suspect that isn't the kind of thing your students were complaining about! Who are these people, what is the field of study, what sorts of things are they going to need to do in their future careers? If all they are going to do is run frequencies and OLS regressions with non-weighted data sets, it may not matter too much which package they are going to use.

You could, of course, be like me, and teach both packages! That is more historical accident than anything else, as I have used SPSS for almost 30 years and only started using Stata a few years ago. But, it doesn't hurt to be multilingual. I don't think either package is all that difficult, at least for basic stuff.

Some of the things I stress to students are
1) Much easier hypothesis testing, e.g. testing that the effects of x1 and x2 are equal is much easier in Stata
2) Stata is much faster for typing basic commands - can anybody remember SPSS's syntax for regression and logistic regression? Sure, the SPSS pulldown menus make things easier but they also slow you up.
3) Just try doing something like robust standard errors in SPSS. A student asked me how to do that once, and we finally found about a 10 page SPSS program that did it!
4) Complicated survey designs can be handled easily by Stata. Not so with SPSS.
5) Try running a logistic regression with a large data set in both programs. Stata is far faster.
6) Various advanced methods are implemented or better implemented in Stata. For example, categorical data analysis.
7) SPSS documentation is free but is little more than a syntax guide. The Stata manuals are expensive but vastly more informative. Not only do you get the syntax, but you get a basic overview of the statistical theory behind the commands.

Again, though, it is not that hard to know both SPSS and Stata. SAS may be more of a challenge. I think the main difficulties come when you are doing complicated data manipulations or highly customized outputting of results. But I'm not sure how many people need to do that on a routine basis.

Richard Williams, Notre Dame Dept of Sociology
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