Computational Economics

computational tools for economists

Is Mathematica worth it?

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Quoted from by aTn

Background: I’ve used Mathematica for 12 years now. I mostly use it to do pure math symbolic calculations (i.e. group theory).

1. Numerical optimization in Mathematica.

I strongly DO NOT recommend Mathematica for that task if your examples are medium to large scale and nonlinear-non-convex.

Mathematica optimization solvers (and add-ons) are rather limited, have poor performance for medium to large scale nonlinear problems (i.e. long calculation times) and don’t offer a complete toolbox to cover mixed integer nonlinear or linear problems.

If you want to buy a commercial software for that task, I highly recommend purchasing AMPL or GAMS. There are a lot of open-source solutions (e.g. and the NEOS server can help in carrying out tests (

There are also a lot of open-source codes for derivative free optimization if your objective or constraint functions involve noise, are non-differentiable or their derivative is not available for some reason (e.g. the result of a computer simulation in another program).

2. Symbolic calculations in Mathematica.

If your main focus is symbolic calculations, then I highly recommend Mathematica.

3. Performance

If you want your code to have low calculation times, then I suggest coding things in a compiled language (e.g. C, Fortran) and using open source libraries.

I make this remark because I initially used Mathematica for numerical optimization as well as other numerical code and I concluded that calculation times were too long for medium to large scale problems I was considering at the time. I have since moved to AMPL and also code in C using open-source and home-made numerical libraries.

There are a ton of open-source (and very reliable) linear algebra, algebraic (or differential) equation solving routines and optimization solvers (e.g see

How to run Mathematica in server?

Northwestern University School of Management Mathematica

UV Mathematica

UNC Mathematica



Written by Jingjing Wang

08/04/2011 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Software

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