When individuals self-select (or are selected) into a study based on factors that influence the outcome, conclusions may not generalize to the full population. To compensate for this, results may be adjusted, for example, by standardization on the set of common causes of participation and outcome. Although such standardization is useful in some contexts, the common causes of participation and outcome may in practice not be fully observed. Instead, the researcher may have access to one or several variables related to the common causes, that is, to proxies for the common causes. This article defines and examines different types of proxy variables and shows how these can be used to obtain generalizable study results. First of all, the researcher may exploit proxies that influence only participation or outcome but which still allow for perfect generalizability by rendering participation and outcome conditionally independent. Further, generalizability can be achieved by leveraging 2 proxies, one of which is allowed to influence participation and one of which is allowed to influence the outcome, even if participation and outcome do not become independent conditional on these. Finally, approximate generalizability may be obtained by exploiting a single proxy that does not itself influence participation or outcome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)448-454
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology


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