I'm reading about observational studies and natural experiments.

It's unclear whether there is a conceptual difference between the two terms.

What is the difference between an observational study and a natural experiment?

  • $\begingroup$ do you want examples? or do you have examples in mind? eg "I heard about study X and it was called experimental, but then study Y was called observational. why are they not called the same thing?" - it's better if you provide "X" and "Y" because you can get an answer in a domain you understand $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2019 at 9:46

1 Answer 1


The difference is that a natural experiment is an observational study that, in which out so happens that there is something that is effectively a randomization.

A nice clean example is studying the effects of suddenly having lots of money by comparing lottery winners against a representative random sample of people that bought tickets for the same drawing. Effectively, someone else did the randomization for you and it very clearly had nothing to do with some characteristic of the people whether they won or not.

It gets trickier when you take human decisions (e.g. political decisions for introducing or adjusting a minimum wage), because the decisions could very well have been not independent of other factors that might affect outcomes.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.