Assessing Fairness in the Presence of Missing Data

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Yiliang Zhang, Qi Long


Missing data are prevalent and present daunting challenges in real data analysis. While there is a growing body of literature on fairness in analysis of fully observed data, there has been little theoretical work on investigating fairness in analysis of incomplete data. In practice, a popular analytical approach for dealing with missing data is to use only the set of complete cases, i.e., observations with all features fully observed to train a prediction algorithm. However, depending on the missing data mechanism, the distribution of complete cases and the distribution of the complete data may be substantially different. When the goal is to develop a fair algorithm in the complete data domain where there are no missing values, an algorithm that is fair in the complete case domain may show disproportionate bias towards some marginalized groups in the complete data domain. To fill this significant gap, we study the problem of estimating fairness in the complete data domain for an arbitrary model evaluated merely using complete cases. We provide upper and lower bounds on the fairness estimation error and conduct numerical experiments to assess our theoretical results. Our work provides the first known theoretical results on fairness guarantee in analysis of incomplete data.