Evaluation of subset matching methods and forms of covariate balance

Stat Med. 2016 Nov 30;35(27):4961-4979. doi: 10.1002/sim.7036. Epub 2016 Jul 21.


This paper conducts a Monte Carlo simulation study to evaluate the performance of multivariate matching methods that select a subset of treatment and control observations. The matching methods studied are the widely used nearest neighbor matching with propensity score calipers and the more recently proposed methods, optimal matching of an optimally chosen subset and optimal cardinality matching. The main findings are: (i) covariate balance, as measured by differences in means, variance ratios, Kolmogorov-Smirnov distances, and cross-match test statistics, is better with cardinality matching because by construction it satisfies balance requirements; (ii) for given levels of covariate balance, the matched samples are larger with cardinality matching than with the other methods; (iii) in terms of covariate distances, optimal subset matching performs best; (iv) treatment effect estimates from cardinality matching have lower root-mean-square errors, provided strong requirements for balance, specifically, fine balance, or strength-k balance, plus close mean balance. In standard practice, a matched sample is considered to be balanced if the absolute differences in means of the covariates across treatment groups are smaller than 0.1 standard deviations. However, the simulation results suggest that stronger forms of balance should be pursued in order to remove systematic biases due to observed covariates when a difference in means treatment effect estimator is used. In particular, if the true outcome model is additive, then marginal distributions should be balanced, and if the true outcome model is additive with interactions, then low-dimensional joints should be balanced. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: matched sampling; observational studies; propensity scores.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Humans
  • Monte Carlo Method*
  • Propensity Score*