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Explaining Causal Findings Without Bias: Detecting and Assessing Direct Effects

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  • ACHARYA, AVIDIT
  • BLACKWELL, MATTHEW
  • SEN, MAYA

Abstract

Researchers seeking to establish causal relationships frequently control for variables on the purported causal pathway, checking whether the original treatment effect then disappears. Unfortunately, this common approach may lead to biased estimates. In this article, we show that the bias can be avoided by focusing on a quantity of interest called the controlled direct effect. Under certain conditions, the controlled direct effect enables researchers to rule out competing explanations—an important objective for political scientists. To estimate the controlled direct effect without bias, we describe an easy-to-implement estimation strategy from the biostatistics literature. We extend this approach by deriving a consistent variance estimator and demonstrating how to conduct a sensitivity analysis. Two examples—one on ethnic fractionalization’s effect on civil war and one on the impact of historical plough use on contemporary female political participation—illustrate the framework and methodology.

Suggested Citation

  • Acharya, Avidit & Blackwell, Matthew & Sen, Maya, 2016. "Explaining Causal Findings Without Bias: Detecting and Assessing Direct Effects," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 512-529, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:110:y:2016:i:03:p:512-529_00
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    2. Alberto Alesina & Paola Giuliano & Nathan Nunn, 2013. "On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(2), pages 469-530.
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    Cited by:

    1. Strobl, Renate & Wunsch, Conny, 2018. "Identification of causal mechanisms based on between-subject double randomization designs," CEPR Discussion Papers 13028, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. repec:eee:jfpoli:v:83:y:2019:i:c:p:139-149 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Girum Abebe & Stefano Caria & Marcel Fafchamps & Paolo Falco & Simon Franklin & Simon Quinn, 2017. "Anonymity or Distance? Job Search and Labour Market Exclusion in a Growing African City," SERC Discussion Papers 0224, Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE.
    4. repec:eee:deveco:v:131:y:2018:i:c:p:15-27 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Renate Strobl & Conny Wunsch, 2017. "Does Voluntary Risk Taking Affect Solidarity? Experimental Evidence from Kenya," CESifo Working Paper Series 6578, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Grätz, Michael, 2019. "When Less Conditioning Provides Better Estimates: Overcontrol and Collider Bias in Research on Intergenerational Mobility," Working Paper Series 2/2019, Stockholm University, Swedish Institute for Social Research.
    7. Lara Cockx, 2019. "Moving Towards a Better Future? Migration and Children's Health and Education," LICOS Discussion Papers 41119, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
    8. Del Prete, Davide & Ghins, Léopold & Magrini, Emiliano & Pauw, Karl, 2019. "Land consolidation, specialization and household diets: Evidence from Rwanda," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 139-149.
    9. repec:eee:socmed:v:234:y:2019:i:c:3 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:eee:wdevel:v:111:y:2018:i:c:p:270-287 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. repec:eee:wdevel:v:113:y:2019:i:c:p:100-115 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Muhammad Kabir Salihu & Andrea Guariso, 2017. "Rainfall inequality, trust and civil conflict in Nigeria," Working Papers 205618510, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    13. repec:eee:wdevel:v:110:y:2018:i:c:p:140-159 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Moya, Andrés, 2018. "Violence, psychological trauma, and risk attitudes: Evidence from victims of violence in Colombia," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 15-27.
    15. Mohamed BOLY, 2018. "CO2 mitigation in developing countries: the role of foreign aid," Working Papers 201801, CERDI.
    16. Romero, Miriam & Wollni, Meike & Rudolf, Katrin & Asnawi, Rosyani & Irawan, Bambang, 2019. "Promoting sustainable land use choices in Indonesia: Experimental evidence on the role of changing mindsets and structural barriers," EFForTS Discussion Paper Series 25, University of Goettingen, Collaborative Research Centre 990 "EFForTS, Ecological and Socioeconomic Functions of Tropical Lowland Rainforest Transformation Systems (Sumatra, Indonesia)".
    17. Jacobus Cilliers & Brahm Fleisch & Cas Prinsloo & Stephen Taylor, 2018. "How to improve teaching practice? Experimental comparison of centralized training and in-classroom coaching," Working Papers 15/2018, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    18. Abebe, Girum & Caria, Stefano & Fafchamps, Marcel & Falco, Paolo & Franklin, Simon & Quinn, Simon, 2017. "Anonymity of distance? Job search and labour market exclusion in a growing African city," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86573, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    19. Lim, S., 2018. "Risk Aversion, Crop Diversification, and Food Security," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 277336, International Association of Agricultural Economists.

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