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Sample surveys are a widely used and cost effective tool to gain information about a population under consideration. Nowadays, there is an increasing demand not only for information on the population level but also on the level of subpopulations. For some of these subpopulations of interest, however, very small subsample sizes might occur such that the application of traditional estimation methods is not expedient. In order to provide reliable information also for those so called small areas, small area estimation (SAE) methods combine auxiliary information and the sample data via a statistical model.
The present thesis deals, among other aspects, with the development of highly flexible and close to reality small area models. For this purpose, the penalized spline method is adequately modified which allows to determine the model parameters via the solution of an unconstrained optimization problem. Due to this optimization framework, the incorporation of shape constraints into the modeling process is achieved in terms of additional linear inequality constraints on the optimization problem. This results in small area estimators that allow for both the utilization of the penalized spline method as a highly flexible modeling technique and the incorporation of arbitrary shape constraints on the underlying P-spline function.
In order to incorporate multiple covariates, a tensor product approach is employed to extend the penalized spline method to multiple input variables. This leads to high-dimensional optimization problems for which naive solution algorithms yield an unjustifiable complexity in terms of runtime and in terms of memory requirements. By exploiting the underlying tensor nature, the present thesis provides adequate computationally efficient solution algorithms for the considered optimization problems and the related memory efficient, i.e. matrix-free, implementations. The crucial point thereby is the (repetitive) application of a matrix-free conjugated gradient method, whose runtime is drastically reduced by a matrx-free multigrid preconditioner.

A basic assumption of standard small area models is that the statistic of interest can be modelled through a linear mixed model with common model parameters for all areas in the study. The model can then be used to stabilize estimation. In some applications, however, there may be different subgroups of areas, with specific relationships between the response variable and auxiliary information. In this case, using a distinct model for each subgroup would be more appropriate than employing one model for all observations. If no suitable natural clustering variable exists, finite mixture regression models may represent a solution that „lets the data decide“ how to partition areas into subgroups. In this framework, a set of two or more different models is specified, and the estimation of subgroup-specific model parameters is performed simultaneously to estimating subgroup identity, or the probability of subgroup identity, for each area. Finite mixture models thus offer a fexible approach to accounting for unobserved heterogeneity. Therefore, in this thesis, finite mixtures of small area models are proposed to account for the existence of latent subgroups of areas in small area estimation. More specifically, it is assumed that the statistic of interest is appropriately modelled by a mixture of K linear mixed models. Both mixtures of standard unit-level and standard area-level models are considered as special cases. The estimation of mixing proportions, area-specific probabilities of subgroup identity and the K sets of model parameters via the EM algorithm for mixtures of mixed models is described. Eventually, a finite mixture small area estimator is formulated as a weighted mean of predictions from model 1 to K, with weights given by the area-specific probabilities of subgroup identity.