Prevention scientists use latent class analysis (LCA) with increasing frequency to characterize complex behavior patterns and profiles of risk. Often, the most important research questions in these studies involve establishing characteristics that predict membership in the latent classes, thus describing the composition of the subgroups and suggesting possible points of intervention. More recently, prevention scientists have begun to adopt modern methods for drawing causal inference from observational data because of the bias that can be introduced by confounders. This same issue of confounding exists in any analysis of observational data, including prediction of latent class membership. This study demonstrates a straightforward approach to causal inference in LCA that builds on propensity score methods. We demonstrate this approach by examining the causal effect of early sex on subsequent delinquency latent classes using data from 1,890 adolescents in 11th and 12th grade from wave I of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Prior to the statistical adjustment for potential confounders, early sex was significantly associated with delinquency latent class membership for both genders (p = 0.02). However, the propensity score adjusted analysis indicated no evidence for a causal effect of early sex on delinquency class membership (p = 0.76) for either gender. Sample R and SAS code is included in an Appendix in the ESM so that prevention scientists may adopt this approach to causal inference in LCA in their own work.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health