NS Seminar

Date and Location

Mar 18, 2019 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm
Bldg 434, Room 122


Identification of causal effects using instrumental variables (presented by Kevin Smith, Electrical and Computer Engineering)

Angrist, J. D., Imbens, G. W., & Rubin, D. B. (1996). Identification of causal effects using instrumental variables. Journal of the American statistical Association, 91(434), 444-455.

We outline a framework for causal inference in settings where assignment to a binary treatment is ignorable, but compliance with the assignment is not perfect so that the receipt of treatment is nonignorable. To address the problems associated with comparing subjects by the ignorable assignment - an "intention-to-treat analysis" - we make use of instrumental variables, which have long been used by economists in the context of regression models with constant treatment effects. We show that the instrumental variables (IV) estimand can be embedded within the Rubin Causal Model (RCM) and that under some simple and easily interpretable assumptions, the IV estimand is the average causal effect for a subgroup of units, the compliers. Without these assumptions, the IV estimand is simply the ratio of intention-to-treat causal estimands with no interpretation as an average causal effect. The advantages of embedding the IV approach in the RCM are that it clarifies the nature of critical assumptions needed for a causal interpretation, and moreover allows us to consider sensitivity of the results to deviations from key assumptions in a straightforward manner. We apply our analysis to estimate the effect of veteran status in the Vietnam era on mortality, using the lottery number that assigned priority for the draft as an instrument, and we use our results to investigate the sensitivity of the conclusions to critical assumptions.


Economic Shocks and Civil Conflict: An Instrumental Variables Approach (presented by Su Burtner, Geography)

Miguel, E., Satyanath, S., & Sergenti, E. (2004). Economic shocks and civil conflict: An instrumental variables approach. Journal of political Economy, 112(4), 725-753.

Estimating the impact of economic conditions on the likelihood of civil conflict is difficult because of endogeneity and omitted variable bias. We use rainfall variation as an instrumental variable for economic growth in 41 African countries during 1981–99. Growth is strongly negatively related to civil conflict: a negative growth shock of five percentage points increases the likelihood of conflict by one‐half the following year. We attempt to rule out other channels through which rainfall may affect conflict. Surprisingly, the impact of growth shocks on conflict is not significantly different in richer, more democratic, or more ethnically diverse countries.