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Optimal Transport for Counterfactual Estimation: A Method for Causal Inference


  • Arthur Charpentier
  • Emmanuel Flachaire
  • Ewen Gallic


Many problems ask a question that can be formulated as a causal question: "what would have happened if...?" For example, "would the person have had surgery if he or she had been Black?" To address this kind of questions, calculating an average treatment effect (ATE) is often uninformative, because one would like to know how much impact a variable (such as skin color) has on a specific individual, characterized by certain covariates. Trying to calculate a conditional ATE (CATE) seems more appropriate. In causal inference, the propensity score approach assumes that the treatment is influenced by x, a collection of covariates. Here, we will have the dual view: doing an intervention, or changing the treatment (even just hypothetically, in a thought experiment, for example by asking what would have happened if a person had been Black) can have an impact on the values of x. We will see here that optimal transport allows us to change certain characteristics that are influenced by the variable we are trying to quantify the effect of. We propose here a mutatis mutandis version of the CATE, which will be done simply in dimension one by saying that the CATE must be computed relative to a level of probability, associated to the proportion of x (a single covariate) in the control population, and by looking for the equivalent quantile in the test population. In higher dimension, it will be necessary to go through transport, and an application will be proposed on the impact of some variables on the probability of having an unnatural birth (the fact that the mother smokes, or that the mother is Black).

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  • Arthur Charpentier & Emmanuel Flachaire & Ewen Gallic, 2023. "Optimal Transport for Counterfactual Estimation: A Method for Causal Inference," Papers 2301.07755,
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:2301.07755

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    References listed on IDEAS

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