I'm training a regression NN to generate insurance premiums. I have training data which consists of various metrics about the individuals. The problem is, quite often the dataset is incomplete, for example, I may not know whether the individual smokes, it's just missing data, but for others I do have that data, but in both cases I know what their premium was.

I'd say a considerable portion, maybe 75% is missing at least one item of data across the whole spectrum of what I'll be providing.

I'm not sure how best to handle it? The only thing I could think is if the data is missing then I set it to the zero variance of the normalised data? i.e. it's neutral and has no impact positive or negative?

Any other ideas?

Many thanks


1 Answer 1


The problem of missing data has in data analysis obtained considerable attention. In their reference book [1] Rubin and Little define three mechanisms behind data becoming missing (definitions from from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_data):

  • MCAR: Values in a data set are missing completely at random (MCAR) if the events that lead to any particular data-item being missing are independent both of observable variables and of unobservable parameters of interest, and occur entirely at random
  • MAR: Missing at random occurs when the missingness is not random, but where missingness can be fully accounted for by variables where there are completely observed
  • MNAR: the value of the variable that's missing is related to the reason it's missing

In the example you give, whether a subject smokes or not, tends often to be missing. I would believe that MNAR is the case for smoking. Non-smokers have no problem with filling in this fact, whereas some (perhaps light) smokers can be reluctant to indicate a 'Yes'. So the missingness of 'Smoking' is most likely to indicate a smoker, but we don't know.

When MNAR is the case, you need to model the missing data mechanism as well. Being creative, it is possible to model a simple missing data mechanism with a neural network. You can represent the boolean variable (like smoker, yes/no) by one input neuron, with encoded input $1$ for smoker and $-1$ for non-smoker. Give the value $0$ as input to this neuron when the smoker variable is missing. Any weights connecting with the 'smoker input neuron' will have no influence on the further computation, because $0 \times w_{i\,j}=0$.

You don't have to adapt the training algorithm or the network topology for this solution to work for boolean and enumerated variables.

[1] Rubin, Donald B.; Little, Roderick J. A. (2002). Statistical analysis with missing data (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ What about for continuous or numerically valued inputs? $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2019 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelKomarov if you have a new question, it's best to ask it as a new question, not in the comments. $\endgroup$
    – Joooeey
    Feb 23, 2021 at 19:22

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