We Found Causality in a Hopeless Place. Challenges of Causality in Demographic Observational Studies

Bruno Arpino, University of Florence

Demographers are often confronted with the goal of establishing a causal link between demographic events (e.g., fertility, union formation and dissolution) and socio-economic, health and other types of measures. Since experiments are commonly not a feasible strategy, demographic studies usually rely on observational data. Not being able to manipulate the treatment assignment, demographers have to deal with several issues, such as omitted variable bias and reverse causality. The aims of this paper are to review the methods commonly used by demographers to estimate causal effects in observational studies and to discuss strengths and limitations of these methods and of their implementation in demographic studies.

Presented in Session 4: Innovations in Demographic Data and Methods