Population heterogeneity and causal inference

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This contribution is part of the special series of Inaugural Articles by members of the National Academy of Sciences elected in 2009. Population heterogeneity is ubiquitous in social science. The very objective of social science research is not to discover abstract and universal laws but to understand population heterogeneity. Due to population heterogeneity, causal inference with observational data in social science is impossible without strong assumptions. Researchers have long been concerned with two potential sources of bias. The first is bias in unobserved pretreatment factors affecting the outcome even in the absence of treatment. The secondis bias due to heterogeneity in treatment effects. In this article, I show how "composition bias" due to population heterogeneity evolves over time when treatment propensity is systematically associated with heterogeneous treatment effects. A form of selection bias, composition bias, arises dynamically at the aggregate level even when the classic assumption of ignorability holds true at the microlevel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6262-6268
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 16 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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