Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

139 Endogeneity and Approaches to Its Correction: Advanced Topics In Program Evaluation

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:15 PM
Independence E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Shenyang Guo, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Qi Wu, MSW, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
When randomized clinical trials are infeasible, researchers must rely on statistical approaches to discern treatment effectiveness. Regression or simple covariance control is just one approach, but not BLUE one (i.e., best linear unbiased estimator). This is because selectivity in observational data causes a problem of “endogeneity”. Formally, endogeneity refers to a correlation between the error term and the indicator variable of treatment assignment, which leads to a biased estimate of treatment effect. This workshop reviews sources of endogeneity, the problem of running regression with such data, and recent advances in statistical modeling to address the problem. Specifically, it presents results of a series of Monte Carlo studies specially designed to show problems of using regression under various conditions. It underscores the danger of blindly throwing control variables into regression analysis without carefully examining the process of data generation and mechanisms producing selectivity. The workshop aims to convey a simple message: in many situations regression would produce biased results, and should be replaced by more rigorous approaches such as propensity score analysis (PSA).

The workshop will focus on the following topics.

1. In all program evaluations, evaluators must balance data to meet the assumption about strongly ignorable treatment assignment. A Monte Carlo study comparing three simple corrective methods (i.e., regression, matching, and subclassification) under five scenarios of data generation shows that regression, and simple corrective method in general, does not automatically correct for violation of nonignorable treatment assignment. 2. When the endogeneity problem is present, evaluators face a number of choices to balance data. These corrective approaches include regression on the propensity score, matching on the propensity score, weighting and regression, blocking and regression, kernel-based matching, regression discontinuity design, instrumental variables, Bayesian approaches, and more. Among these, matching estimators, propensity score weighting, and propensity score subclassification are the most popular ones and have been increasingly adopted by social behavioral scientists (Guo & Fraser, 2010). Following Heckman and Robb (1988), a Monte Carlo study simulating two conditions (i.e., “selection on observables” and “selection on unobservables”) shows that regression is more “asymptotically biased” and less robust than the three popular methods of PSA. This is particularly true when selection is on unobservables. 3. Implications. Focusing on three typical evaluation problems in social work research (i.e., evaluations of school-based interventions, substance-abuse treatment programs, and child-welfare interventions), we discuss implications of the endogeneity problem, why regression or simple covariance control may yield biased findings, and the importance of applying robust approaches under these circumstances to enhance evaluation's internal validity.

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