Missing Not at Random Models for Latent Growth Curve Analyses

Craig K. Enders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

185 Scopus citations


The past decade has seen a noticeable shift in missing data handling techniques that assume a missing at random (MAR) mechanism, where the propensity for missing data on an outcome is related to other analysis variables. Although MAR is often reasonable, there are situations where this assumption is unlikely to hold, leading to biased parameter estimates. One such example is a longitudinal study of substance use where participants with the highest frequency of use also have the highest likelihood of attrition, even after controlling for other correlates of missingness. There is a large body of literature on missing not at random (MNAR) analysis models for longitudinal data, particularly in the field of biostatistics. Because these methods allow for a relationship between the outcome variable and the propensity for missing data, they require a weaker assumption about the missing data mechanism. This article describes 2 classic MNAR modeling approaches for longitudinal data: the selection model and the pattern mixture model. To date, these models have been slow to migrate to the social sciences, in part because they required complicated custom computer programs. These models are now quite easy to estimate in popular structural equation modeling programs, particularly Mplus. The purpose of this article is to describe these MNAR modeling frameworks and to illustrate their application on a real data set. Despite their potential advantages, MNAR-based analyses are not without problems and also rely on untestable assumptions. This article offers practical advice for implementing and choosing among different longitudinal models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPsychological Methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Attrition
  • Missing data
  • Missing not at random
  • Pattern mixture model
  • Selection model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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