When natural experiments are neither natural nor experiments

Jasjeet S. Sekhon, Rocío Titiunik

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Natural experiments help to overcome some of the obstacles researchers face when making causal inferences in the social sciences. However, even when natural interventions are randomly assigned, some of the treatment-control comparisons made available by natural experiments may not be valid. We offer a framework for clarifying the issues involved, which are subtle and often overlooked. We illustrate our framework by examining four different natural experiments used in the literature. In each case, random assignment of the intervention is not sufficient to provide an unbiased estimate of the causal effect. Additional assumptions are required that are problematic. For some examples, we propose alternative research designs that avoid these conceptual difficulties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-57
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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