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Author: Xu, Jiahui
Resulting in 1 citation.
1. Brand, Jennie E.
Xu, Jiahui
Koch, Bernard
Geraldo, Pablo
Uncovering Sociological Effect Heterogeneity Using Tree-Based Machine Learning
Sociological Methodology published online (4 March 2021): DOI: 10.1177/0081175021993503.
Cohort(s): NLSY79
Publisher: American Sociological Association
Keyword(s): Educational Attainment; Heterogeneity; Methods/Methodology; Wages

Permission to reprint the abstract has not been received from the publisher.

Individuals do not respond uniformly to treatments, such as events or interventions. Sociologists routinely partition samples into subgroups to explore how the effects of treatments vary by selected covariates, such as race and gender, on the basis of theoretical priors. Data-driven discoveries are also routine, yet the analyses by which sociologists typically go about them are often problematic and seldom move us beyond our biases to explore new meaningful subgroups. Emerging machine learning methods based on decision trees allow researchers to explore sources of variation that they may not have previously considered or envisaged. In this article, the authors use tree-based machine learning, that is, causal trees, to recursively partition the sample to uncover sources of effect heterogeneity. Assessing a central topic in social inequality, college effects on wages, the authors compare what is learned from covariate and propensity score–based partitioning approaches with recursive partitioning based on causal trees. Decision trees, although superseded by forests for estimation, can be used to uncover subpopulations responsive to treatments. Using observational data, the authors expand on the existing causal tree literature by applying leaf-specific effect estimation strategies to adjust for observed confounding, including inverse propensity weighting, nearest neighbor matching, and doubly robust causal forests. We also assess localized balance metrics and sensitivity analyses to address the possibility of differential imbalance and unobserved confounding. The authors encourage researchers to follow similar data exploration practices in their work on variation in sociological effects and offer a straightforward framework by which to do so.
Bibliography Citation
Brand, Jennie E., Jiahui Xu, Bernard Koch and Pablo Geraldo. "Uncovering Sociological Effect Heterogeneity Using Tree-Based Machine Learning." Sociological Methodology published online (4 March 2021): DOI: 10.1177/0081175021993503.