Confounding-adjustment methods for the causal difference in medians

Daisy A. Shepherd*, Benjamin R. Baer, Margarita Moreno-Betancur

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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With continuous outcomes, the average causal effect is typically defined using a contrast of expected potential outcomes. However, in the presence of skewed outcome data, the expectation (population mean) may no longer be meaningful. In practice the typical approach is to continue defining the estimand this way or transform the outcome to obtain a more symmetric distribution, although neither approach may be entirely satisfactory. Alternatively the causal effect can be redefined as a contrast of median potential outcomes, yet discussion of confounding-adjustment methods to estimate the causal difference in medians is limited. In this study we described and compared confounding-adjustment methods to address this gap.

The methods considered were multivariable quantile regression, an inverse probability weighted (IPW) estimator, weighted quantile regression (another form of IPW) and two little-known implementations of g-computation for this problem. Methods were evaluated within a simulation study under varying degrees of skewness in the outcome and applied to an empirical study using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

Simulation results indicated the IPW estimator, weighted quantile regression and g-computation implementations minimised bias across all settings when the relevant models were correctly specified, with g-computation additionally minimising the variance. Multivariable quantile regression, which relies on a constant-effect assumption, consistently yielded biased results. Application to the empirical study illustrated the practical value of these methods.

The presented methods provide appealing avenues for estimating the causal difference in medians.
Original languageEnglish
Article number288
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2023


  • Causal inference
  • Skewed outcomes
  • Potential outcomes
  • Difference in medians
  • Confounding
  • Quantile regression
  • Inverse probability weighted
  • Propensity scores
  • G-computation


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