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Reshape Panel Data from Wide to Long

Panel data is data in which individuals are observed at multiple points in time. There are two standard ways of storing this data:

In wide format, there is one row per individual. Then, for each variable in the data set that varies over time, there is one column per time period. For example:

Individual FixedCharacteristic TimeVarying1990 TimeVarying1991 TimeVarying1992
1 C 16 20 22
2 H 23.4 10 14

This format makes it easy to perform calculations across multiple years.

In long format, there is one row per individual per time period:

Individual FixedCharacteristic Year TimeVarying
1 C 1990 16
1 C 1991 20
1 C 1992 22
2 H 1990 23.4
2 H 1991 10
2 H 1992 14

This format makes it easy to run models like fixed effects.

Reshaping is the method of converting wide-format data to long and vice versa..

Keep in Mind

  • If your data has multiple observations per individual/time, then standard reshaping techniques generally won’t work.
  • It’s a good idea to check your data by directly looking at it both before and after a reshape to check that it worked properly.

Also Consider



The most user friendly ways to use Python to reshape data from wide to long formats come from the pandas data analysis package. Its wide_to_long function is relatively easy to use, the alternative melt function can handle more complex cases. In this example, we will download the billboard dataset, which has multiple columns for different weeks when a record was in the charts (with the values in each column giving the chart position for that week).

All of the columns that we would like to convert to long format begin with the prefix ‘wk’. The wide_to_long function accepts this prefix (as the stubnames= keyword parameter) and uses it to work out which columns to transform into a single column.

# Install pandas using pip or conda, if you don't have it already installed

import pandas as pd

df = pd.read_csv('',

# stubnames is the prefix for the columns we want to convert to long. i is the
# unique id for each row, and j will be the name of the new column. Finally,
# the values from the original wide columns (the chart position) adopt the
# stubname, so we rename 'wk' to 'position' in the last step.
long_df = (pd.wide_to_long(df,
                           i=['artist', 'track', 'date.entered'],
             .rename(columns={'wk': 'position'}))

# The wide_to_long function is a special case of the 'melt' function, which
# can be used in more complex cases. Here we melt any columns that have the
# string 'wk' in their names. In the final step, we extract the number of weeks
# from the prefix 'wk' using regex. The final dataframe is the same as above.
long_df = pd.melt(df,
                  id_vars=['artist', 'track', 'date.entered'],
                  value_vars=[x for x in df.columns if 'wk' in x],
long_df['week'] = long_df['week'].str.extract(r'(\d+)')

# A more complex case taken from the pandas docs:

import numpy as np

# In this case, there are two different patterns in the many columns
# that we want to convert to two different long columns. We can pass
# stubnames a list of these prefixes. It then splits the columns that
# have the year suffix into two different long columns depending on
# their first letter (A or B)

# Create some synthetic data
df = pd.DataFrame({"A1970" : {0 : "a", 1 : "b", 2 : "c"},
                   "A1980" : {0 : "d", 1 : "e", 2 : "f"},
                   "B1970" : {0 : 2.5, 1 : 1.2, 2 : .7},
                   "B1980" : {0 : 3.2, 1 : 1.3, 2 : .1},
                   "X"     : dict(zip(range(3), np.random.randn(3)))
# Set an index
df["id"] = df.index
# Wide to multiple long columns
df_long = pd.wide_to_long(df, ["A", "B"], i="id", j="year")


There are many ways to reshape in R, including base-R reshape and the deprecated reshape2::melt and cast and tidyr::gather and spread. There is also the incredibly fast data.table::melt(). We will be using the tidyr package function pivot_longer, which requires tidyr version 1.0.0 or later.

# install.packages('tidyr')

# Load in billboard, which has one row per song
# and one variable per week, for its chart position each week

# If we look at the data, we'll see that we have:
# identifying information in "artist" and "track"
# A variable consistent within individuals "date.entered"
# and a bunch of variables containing position information
# all named wk and then a number

Now we think:

  1. Think about the set of variables that contain time-varying information. Here’s it’s wk1-wk76. So we can give a list of all the variables we want to widen using the tidyselect helper function starts_with(): starts_with("wk"). This list of variable names will be our col argument.
  2. Think about what we want the new variables to be called. I’ll call the week time variable “week” (this will be the names_to argument), and the data values currently stored in wk1-wk76 is the “position” (values_to).
  3. Think about the values you want to be in your new time variable. The column names are wk1-wk76 but we want the variable to have 1-76 instead, so we’ll take out the “wk” with names_prefix = "wk".
billboard_long <- pivot_longer(billboard,
                               col = starts_with("wk"),
                               names_to = "week",
                               names_prefix = "wk",
                               values_to = "position",
                               values_drop_na = TRUE)
# values_drop_na says to drop any rows containing missing values of position.
# If reshaping to create multiple variables, see the names_sep or names_pattern options.

This task can also be done through data.table.


billboard =
billboard_long = melt(billboard,
                   id = 1:3,
                   variable.names = "Week",
          = "Position"


* Load blood pressure data in wide format, which contains
* bp_before and bp_after
sysuse bpwide.dta

The next steps involve thinking:

  1. Think about the set of variables that identify individuals. Here it’s patient. This will go in i(), so we have i(patient).
  2. Think about the set of variables that vary across time. Here’s it’s bp_. Note the inclusion of the _, so that “before” and “after” will be our time periods. This will be one of our “stub”s.
  3. Think about what we want the new time variable to be called. I’ll just call it “time”, and this goes in j(), so we have j(time).
* Syntax is:
* reshape long stub, i(individualvars) j(newtimevar)
* So we have
reshape long bp_ i(patient) j(time) s
* Where the s indicates that our time variable is a string ("before", "after")
* Note that simply typing
* will show the syntax for the function

With especially large datasets, the Gtools package provides a much faster version of reshape known as greshape. The syntax can function exactly the same, though they provide alternative syntax that you may find more intuitive.

* If necessary, install gtools
* ssc install gtools

* First, we will create a toy dataset that is very large to demonstrate the speed gains
* Clear memory
clear all
* Turn on return message to see command run time
set rmsg on
* Set data size to 15 million observations
set obs 15000000
* Create an ID variable
generate person_id = _n

* Create 4 separate fake test scores per student
generate test_score1 = round(rnormal(180, 30))
generate test_score2 = round(rnormal(180, 30))
generate test_score3 = round(rnormal(180, 30))
generate test_score4 = round(rnormal(180, 30))

* Demonstrate the comparative speed of these two reshape approaches
* preserve and restore aren't a part of the reshape command;
* they just store the current state of the data and then restore it,
* so we can try our different reshape commands on the same data.

* The traditional reshape command
reshape long test_score, i(person_id) j(test_number)

*The Gtools reshape command
greshape long test_score, i(person_id) j(test_number)

*The Gtools reshape command, alternative syntax
greshape long test_score, by(person_id) keys(test_number)

Note: there is much more guidance to the usage of greshape on the Gtools reshape page.