``Estimating Average Treatment Effects with Support Vector Machines.''



Support vector machine (SVM) is one of the most popular classification algorithms in the machine learning literature. We demonstrate that SVM can be used to balance covariates and estimate average causal effects under the unconfoundedness assumption. Specifically, we adapt the SVM classifier as a kernel-based weighting procedure that minimizes the maximum mean discrepancy between the treatment and control groups while simultaneously maximizing effective sample size. We also show that SVM is a continuous relaxation of the quadratic integer program for computing the largest balanced subset, establishing its direct relation to the cardinality matching method. Another important feature of SVM is that the regularization parameter controls the trade-off between covariate balance and effective sample size. As a result, the existing SVM path algorithm can be used to compute the balance-sample size frontier. We characterize the bias of causal effect estimation arising from this trade-off, connecting the proposed SVM procedure to the existing kernel balancing methods. Finally, we conduct simulation and empirical studies to evaluate the performance of the proposed methodology and find that SVM is competitive with the state-of-the-art covariate balancing methods. (Last updated in February 2021)

© Kosuke Imai
 Last modified: Tue Feb 23 21:03:20 EST 2021