Multilevel models with persons nested in countries are increasingly popular in cross-country research. Recently, social scientists have started to analyze data with a three-level structure: persons at level 1, nested in year-specific country samples at level 2, nested in countries at level 3. By using a country fixed-effects estimator, or an alternative equivalent specification in a random-effects framework, this structure is increasingly used to estimate within-country effects in order to control for unobserved heterogeneity. For the main effects of country-level characteristics, such estimators have been shown to have desirable statistical properties. However, estimators of cross-level interactions in these models are not exhibiting these attractive properties: as algebraic transformations show, they are not independent of between-country variation and thus carry country-specific heterogeneity. Monte Carlo experiments consistently reveal the standard approaches to within estimation to provide biased estimates of cross-level interactions in the presence of an unobserved correlated moderator at the country level. To obtain an unbiased within-country estimator of a cross-level interaction, effect heterogeneity must be systematically controlled. By replicating a published analysis, we demonstrate the relevance of this extended country fixed-effects estimator in research practice. The intent of this article is to provide advice for multilevel practitioners, who will be increasingly confronted with the availability of pooled cross-sectional survey data.
cross-level interaction pooled cross-section country fixed effects fixed effects multilevel analysis, within effect