Covariate selection with group lasso and doubly robust estimation of causal effects

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The efficiency of doubly robust estimators of the average causal effect (ACE) of a treatment can be improved by including in the treatment and outcome models only those covariates which are related to both treatment and outcome (i.e., confounders) or related only to the outcome. However, it is often challenging to identify such covariates among the large number that may be measured in a given study. In this article, we propose GLiDeR (Group Lasso and Doubly Robust Estimation), a novel variable selection technique for identifying confounders and predictors of outcome using an adaptive group lasso approach that simultaneously performs coefficient selection, regularization, and estimation across the treatment and outcome models. The selected variables and corresponding coefficient estimates are used in a standard doubly robust ACE estimator. We provide asymptotic results showing that, for a broad class of data generating mechanisms, GLiDeR yields a consistent estimator of the ACE when either the outcome or treatment model is correctly specified. A comprehensive simulation study shows that GLiDeR is more efficient than doubly robust methods using standard variable selection techniques and has substantial computational advantages over a recently proposed doubly robust Bayesian model averaging method. We illustrate our method by estimating the causal treatment effect of bilateral versus single-lung transplant on forced expiratory volume in one year after transplant using an observational registry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-17
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Average treatment effect
  • Causal inference
  • Group lasso
  • Variable selection

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