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Finite-sample performance of the maximum likelihood estimator in logistic regression

Hugo Chardon (ENSAE)

Abstract: The logistic model is a classical linear model for describing the probabilistic dependence of binary responses to multivariate covariates. We consider the predictive performance of the maximum likelihood estimator (MLE) for logistic regression, assessed in terms of the logistic loss of its probabilistic forecasts. We consider two questions: first, that of the existence of the MLE (which occurs when the data is not linearly separated), and second that of its accuracy when it exists. These properties depend on both the dimension of covariates and on the signal strength. In the case of Gaussian covariates and a well-specified logistic model, we obtain sharp non-asymptotic guarantees for the existence and excess prediction risk of the MLE. This complements asymptotic results of Sur and Candès, and refines non-asymptotic upper bounds of Ostrovskii and Bach and Chinot, Lecué and Lerasle. We then generalize these results in two ways: first, to non-Gaussian covariates satisfying a certain regularity condition, and second to the case of a misspecified logistic model.