Causal Analysis in Population Research: An Economist's Perspective



The problem of determining cause and effect is one of the oldest questions in the social sciences. This note provides a perspective on the analysis of causal relationships in population research, drawing upon recent discussions in the field of economics. Within economics, thinking about causal estimation has shifted markedly in the last decade toward a more pessimistic reading of what is possible and a retreat in the ambitiousness of claims of causal determination. The framework that underlies this conclusion is presented, methods for isolating causal effects are discussed, and an example from the field of population research is given.