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Unit Root: A Comprehensive Guide

A unit root is a stochastic trend in a time series that is frequently referred to as a random walk with drift

In the world of econometrics and time series analysis, the term ‘unit root’ frequently pops up. But what exactly is it? This blog post aims to demystify the concept, explaining what they are, why they’re important, and how they’re used in econometric analysis.

What is a Unit Root?

A unit root is a feature of some stochastic processes (random processes). This stochastic process is a time series model where a single shock can have a persistent effect. This means that the impact of a single, random event can continue to influence the process indefinitely.

The concept is closely tied to the idea of stationarity in a time series. A time series is said to be stationary if its statistical properties do not change over time. However, a time series with a unit root is non-stationary, as its mean and variance can change over time.

Why is the Concept Important?

The presence of a unit root in a time series has significant implications for econometric analysis. If a unit root exists, it can lead to spurious regressions, where relationships between variables appear significant but are actually meaningless.

Testing for unit roots is a crucial step in time series analysis. If you detect a unit root, you must transform the time series to achieve stationarity before you conduct further analysis. Analysts typically achieve this by differencing the series, a process that involves subtracting the current value of the series from its previous value.

How to Conduct a Unit Root Test?

You can use several tests to detect the presence of a unit root in a time series. The most common is the Augmented Dickey-Fuller (ADF) test, the Phillips-Perron (PP) test, and the Kwiatkowski-Phillips-Schmidt-Shin (KPSS) test. Each of these tests exhibits its own strengths and weaknesses, and the analyst often chooses the test based on the specific characteristics of the time series under analysis. You can conduct a test in R, Stata, or Eviews, among other statistical software.

Unit Root in Time Series

In a time series context, a unit root signifies that the series is non-stationary. Consequently, this significantly influences how analysts can analyze and model the series. For instance, analysts often use this test to determine whether a time series is stationary or non-stationary. If analysts find a unit root in the series, it indicates that the series is non-stationary, and they need to differentiate it to make it stationary.


We know a random walk as a special case within the wider class of time series called unit root processes. They are called this because when expressed using lag polynomials, one of their roots is=1, as in:

$ \left ( 1-L \right )\left ( 1-0.65L \right )y_{t}= \epsilon _{t} $


Firstly, understanding the concept is fundamental to conducting robust econometric analysis. Subsequently, by recognizing the implications and knowing how to test for their presence, researchers and analysts can avoid the pitfalls of spurious regression and ensure their findings are statistically valid. Whether you’re studying for your CFA or delving into the world of econometrics, understanding the meaning and implications of a unit root in time series data is crucial.

Philip Meagher
2 min read


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