Does enforcing fairness mitigate biases caused by subpopulation shift?



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Many instances of algorithmic bias are caused by subpopulation shifts. For example, ML models often perform worse on demographic groups that are underrepresented in the training data. In this paper, we study whether enforcing algorithmic fairness during training improves the performance of the trained model in the target domain. On one hand, we conceive scenarios in which enforcing fairness does not improve performance in the target domain. In fact, it may even harm performance. On the other hand, we derive necessary and sufficient conditions under which enforcing algorithmic fairness leads to the Bayes model in the target domain. We also illustrate the practical implications of our theoretical results in simulations and on real data.

Please cite our work using the BibTeX below.

  doi = {10.48550/ARXIV.2011.03173},
  url = {},
  author = {Maity, Subha and Mukherjee, Debarghya and Yurochkin, Mikhail and Sun, Yuekai},
  keywords = {Machine Learning (stat.ML), Machine Learning (cs.LG), FOS: Computer and information sciences, FOS: Computer and information sciences},
  title = {Does enforcing fairness mitigate biases caused by subpopulation shift?},
  publisher = {arXiv},
  year = {2020},
  copyright = { perpetual, non-exclusive license}
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