Imputation approaches for potential outcomes in causal inference

Daniel Westreich, Jessie K. Edwards, Stephen R. Cole, Robert W. Platt, Sunni L. Mumford, Enrique F. Schisterman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: The fundamental problem of causal inference is one of missing data, and specifically of missing potential outcomes: if potential outcomes were fully observed, then causal inference could be made trivially. Though often not discussed explicitly in the epidemiological literature, the connections between causal inference and missing data can provide additional intuition. Methods: We demonstrate how we can approach causal inference in ways similar to how we address all problems of missing data, using multiple imputation and the parametric g-formula. Results: We explain and demonstrate the use of these methods in example data, and discuss implications for more traditional approaches to causal inference. Conclusions: Though there are advantages and disadvantages to both multiple imputation and g-formula approaches, epidemiologists can benefit from thinking about their causal inference problems as problems of missing data, as such perspectives may lend new and clarifying insights to their analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdyv135
Pages (from-to)1731-1737
Number of pages7
JournalInternational journal of epidemiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Causal inference
  • g-formula
  • multiple imputation
  • potential outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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