Causal inference for ordinal outcomes

Journal Article

Many outcomes of interest in the social and health sciences, as well as in modern applications in computational social science and experimentation on social media platforms, are ordinal and do not have a meaningful scale. Causal analyses that leverage this type of data, termed ordinal non-numeric, require careful treatment, as much of the classical potential outcomes literature is concerned with estimation and hypothesis testing for outcomes whose relative magnitudes are well defined. Here, we propose a class of finite population causal estimands that depend on conditional distributions of the potential outcomes, and provide an interpretable summary of causal effects when no scale is available. We formulate a relaxation of the Fisherian sharp null hypothesis of constant effect that accommodates the scale-free nature of ordinal non-numeric data. We develop a Bayesian procedure to estimate the proposed causal estimands that leverages the rank likelihood. We illustrate these methods with an application to educational outcomes in the General Social Survey.

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Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Volfovsky, A; Airoldi, EM; Rubin, DB