Quantifying biases in causal models: classical confounding vs collider-stratification bias

Epidemiology. 2003 May;14(3):300-6.


It has long been known that stratifying on variables affected by the study exposure can create selection bias. More recently it has been shown that stratifying on a variable that precedes exposure and disease can induce confounding, even if there is no confounding in the unstratified (crude) estimate. This paper examines the relative magnitudes of these biases under some simple causal models in which the stratification variable is graphically depicted as a collider (a variable directly affected by two or more other variables in the graph). The results suggest that bias from stratifying on variables affected by exposure and disease may often be comparable in size with bias from classical confounding (bias from failing to stratify on a common cause of exposure and disease), whereas other biases from collider stratification may tend to be much smaller.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bias*
  • Causality*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic*
  • Humans