A Framework for Optimal Matching for Causal Inference

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Nathan Kallus ;
Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, PMLR 54:372-381, 2017.

Abstract

We propose a novel framework for matching estimators for causal effect from observational data that is based on minimizing the dual norm of estimation error when expressed as an operator. We show that many popular matching estimators can be expressed as optimal in this framework, including nearest-neighbor matching, coarsened exact matching, and mean-matched sampling. This reveals their motivation and aptness as structural priors formulated by embedding the effect in a particular functional space. This also gives rise to a range of new, kernel-based matching estimators that arise when one embeds the effect in a reproducing kernel Hilbert space. Depending on the case, these estimators can be found using either quadratic optimization or integer optimization. We show that estimators based on universal kernels are universally consistent without model specification. In empirical results using both synthetic and real data, the new, kernel-based estimators outperform all standard causal estimators in estimation error.

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