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Three conditions under which experiments and observational studies produce comparable causal estimates: New findings from within-study comparisons

Author

Listed:
  • Thomas D. Cook

    (Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University)

  • William R. Shadish

    (Professor of Psychology, University of California, Merced)

  • Vivian C. Wong

    (Northwestern University)

Abstract

This paper analyzes 12 recent within-study comparisons contrasting causal estimates from a randomized experiment with those from an observational study sharing the same treatment group. The aim is to test whether different causal estimates result when a counterfactual group is formed, either with or without random assignment, and when statistical adjustments for selection are made in the group from which random assignment is absent. We identify three studies comparing experiments and regression-discontinuity (RD) studies. They produce quite comparable causal estimates at points around the RD cutoff. We identify three other studies where the quasi-experiment involves careful intact group matching on the pretest. Despite the logical possibility of hidden bias in this instance, all three cases also reproduce their experimental estimates, especially if the match is geographically local. We then identify two studies where the treatment and nonrandomized comparison groups manifestly differ at pretest but where the selection process into treatment is completely or very plausibly known. Here too, experimental results are recreated. Two of the remaining studies result in correspondent experimental and nonexperimental results under some circumstances but not others, while two others produce different experimental and nonexperimental estimates, though in each case the observational study was poorly designed and analyzed. Such evidence is more promising than what was achieved in past within-study comparisons, most involving job training. Reasons for this difference are discussed. © 2008 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas D. Cook & William R. Shadish & Vivian C. Wong, 2008. "Three conditions under which experiments and observational studies produce comparable causal estimates: New findings from within-study comparisons," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(4), pages 724-750.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:27:y:2008:i:4:p:724-750
    DOI: 10.1002/pam.20375
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:mpr:mprres:7808 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Philip M. Gleason & Christina Clark Tuttle & Brian Gill & Ira Nichols-Barrer & Bing-ru Teh, 2014. "Do KIPP Schools Boost Student Achievement?," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 9(1), pages 36-58, January.
    3. repec:hrv:faseco:34222823 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Ron Zimmer & Brian Gill & Jonathon Attridge & Kaitlin Obenauf, 2014. "Charter School Authorizers and Student Achievement," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 9(1), pages 59-85, January.
    5. Aga, Deribe Assefa, 2016. "Factors affecting the success of development projects : A behavioral perspective," Other publications TiSEM 867ae95e-d53d-4a68-ad46-6, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    6. Jiang, Miao & Foster, E. Michael & Gibson-Davis, Christina M., 2010. "The effect of WIC on breastfeeding: A new look at an established relationship," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(2), pages 264-273, February.
    7. Newman, Sandra J. & Holupka, C. Scott, 2014. "Housing affordability and investments in children," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 89-100.
    8. Sudhanshu Handa & John A. Maluccio, 2010. "Matching the Gold Standard: Comparing Experimental and Nonexperimental Evaluation Techniques for a Geographically Targeted Program," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58(3), pages 415-447, April.
    9. Peter M. Steiner, 2011. "Propensity Score Methods for Causal Inference: On the Relative Importance of Covariate Selection, Reliable Measurement, and Choice of Propensity Score Technique," Working Papers 09, AlmaLaurea Inter-University Consortium.
    10. Fortson, Kenneth & Gleason, Philip & Kopa, Emma & Verbitsky-Savitz, Natalya, 2015. "Horseshoes, hand grenades, and treatment effects? Reassessing whether nonexperimental estimators are biased," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 100-113.
    11. Henrik Hansen & Ninja Ritter Klejnstrup & Ole Winckler Andersen, 2011. "A Comparison of Model-based and Design-based Impact Evaluations of Interventions in Developing Countries," IFRO Working Paper 2011/16, University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics.
    12. Theodore J. Joyce & Sean Crockett & David A. Jaeger & Onur Altindag & Stephen D. O'Connell & Dahlia K. Remler, 2015. "Do Students Know Best? Choice, Classroom Time, and Academic Performance," NBER Working Papers 21656, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Lazzarini, Sergio G. & Musacchio, Aldo & Bandeira-de-Mello, Rodrigo & Marcon, Rosilene, 2015. "What Do State-Owned Development Banks Do? Evidence from BNDES, 2002–09," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 66(C), pages 237-253.
    14. Terri J. Sabol & Robert C. Pianta, 2014. "Do Standard Measures of Preschool Quality Used in Statewide Policy Predict School Readiness?," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 9(2), pages 116-164, March.
    15. Mihalic, Sharon F. & Elliott, Delbert S., 2015. "Evidence-based programs registry: Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 124-131.
    16. Wanjala, Bernadette M. & Muradian, Roldan, 2013. "Can Big Push Interventions Take Small-Scale Farmers out of Poverty? Insights from the Sauri Millennium Village in Kenya," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 147-160.
    17. Ron Zimmer & Brian Gill & Jonathon Attridge & Kaitlin Obenauf, 2013. "Charter School Authorizers and Student Achievement (Journal Article)," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 6e4664294f7341868c9a78142, Mathematica Policy Research.
    18. Jeremy L. Hall, 2009. "Evidence-Based Practice and the Use of Information in State Agency Decision-Making," Working Papers 2009-10, University of Kentucky, Institute for Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.

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