Distributionally Fair Stochastic Optimization using Wasserstein Distance

A traditional stochastic program under a finite population typically seeks to optimize efficiency by maximizing the expected profits or minimizing the expected costs, subject to a set of constraints. However, implementing such optimization-based decisions can have varying impacts on individuals, and when assessed using the individuals' utility functions, these impacts may differ substantially across demographic groups delineated by sensitive attributes, such as gender, race, age, and socioeconomic status. As each group comprises multiple individuals, a common remedy is to enforce group fairness, which necessitates the measurement of disparities in the distributions of utilities across different groups. This paper introduces the concept of Distributionally Fair Stochastic Optimization (DFSO) based on the Wasserstein fairness measure. The DFSO aims to minimize distributional disparities among groups, quantified by the Wasserstein distance, while adhering to an acceptable level of inefficiency. Our analysis reveals that: (i) the Wasserstein fairness measure recovers the demographic parity fairness prevalent in binary classification literature; (ii) this measure can approximate the well-known Kolmogorov–Smirnov fairness measure with considerable accuracy; and (iii) despite DFSO's biconvex nature, the epigraph of the Wasserstein fairness measure is generally Mixed-Integer Convex Programming Representable (MICP-R). Additionally, we introduce two distinct lower bounds for the Wasserstein fairness measure: the Jensen bound, applicable to the general Wasserstein fairness measure, and the Gelbrich bound, specific to the type-2 Wasserstein fairness measure. We establish the exactness of the Gelbrich bound and quantify the theoretical difference between the Wasserstein fairness measure and the Gelbrich bound. Lastly, the theoretical underpinnings of the Wasserstein fairness measure enable us to design efficient algorithms to solve DFSO problems. Our numerical studies validate the effectiveness of these algorithms, confirming their practical use in achieving distributional fairness in several societally pertinent real-world stochastic optimization problems.


Ye, Q., Hanasusanto, G.A., Xie, W. (2024) Distributionally Fair Stochastic Optimization using Wasserstein Distance. Available at Optimization Online.



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