Causality and the Cox Regression Model

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This article surveys results concerning the interpretation of the Cox hazard ratio in connection to causality in a randomized study with a time-To-event response. The Cox model is assumed to be correctly specified, and we investigate whether the typical end product of such an analysis, the estimated hazard ratio, has a causal interpretation as a hazard ratio. It has been pointed out that this is not possible due to selection. We provide more insight into the interpretation of hazard ratios and differences, investigating what can be learned about a treatment effect from the hazard ratio approaching unity after a certain period of time. The conclusion is that the Cox hazard ratio is not causally interpretable as a hazard ratio unless there is no treatment effect or an untestable and unrealistic assumption holds. We give a hazard ratio that has a causal interpretation and study its relationship to the Cox hazard ratio.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnual Review of Statistics and Its Application
Pages (from-to)249-259
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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