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Levels of Measurement and Statistical Operations

12 March, 2015 - 12:24
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The way a set of data is measured is called its level of measurement. Correct statistical procedures depend on a researcher being familiar with levels of measurement. Not every statistical operation can be used with every set of data. Data can be classified into four levels of measurement. They are (from lowest to highest level):

  • Nominal scale level
  • Ordinal scale level
  • Interval scale level
  • Ratio scale level

Data that is measured using a nominal scale is qualitative. Categories, colors, names, labels and favorite foods along with yes or no responses are examples of nominal level data. Nominal scale data are not ordered. For example, trying to classify people according to their favorite food does not make any sense. Putting pizza first and sushi second is not meaningful.

Smartphone companies are another example of nominal scale data. Some examples are Sony, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Apple. This is just a list and there is no agreed upon order. Some people may favor Apple but that is a matter of opinion. Nominal scale data cannot be used in calculations.

Data that is measured using an ordinal scale is similar to nominal scale data but there is a big diference. The ordinal scale data can be ordered. An example of ordinal scale data is a list of the top five national parks in the United States. The top five national parks in the United States can be ranked from one to five but we cannot measure diferences between the data.

Another example using the ordinal scale is a cruise survey where the responses to questions about the cruise are "excellent," "good," "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory." These responses are ordered from the most desired response by the cruise lines to the least desired. But the diferences between two pieces of data cannot be measured. Like the nominal scale data, ordinal scale data cannot be used in calculations.

Data that is measured using the interval scale is similar to ordinal level data because it has a def inite ordering but there is a diference between data. The diferences between interval scale data can be measured though the data does not have a starting point.

Temperature scales like Celsius (C) and Fahrenheit (F) are measured by using the interval scale. In both temperature measurements, 40 degrees is equal to 100 degrees minus 60 degrees. Diferences make sense. But 0 degrees does not because, in both scales, 0 is not the absolute lowest temperature. Temperatures like -10° F and -15° C exist and are colder than 0.

Interval level data can be used in calculations but one type of comparison cannot be done. Eighty degrees C is not 4 times as hot as 20° C (nor is 80° F 4 times as hot as 20° F). There is no meaning to the ratio of 80 to 20 (or 4 to 1).

Data that is measured using the ratio scale takes care of the ratio problem and gives you the most information. Ratio scale data is like interval scale data but, in addition, it has a 0 point and ratios can be calculated. For example, four multiple choice statistics fnal exam scores are 80, 68, 20 and 92 (out of a possible 100 points). The exams were machine-graded.

The data can be put in order from lowest to highest: 20, 68, 80, 92.

The diferences between the data have meaning. The score 92 is more than the score 68 by 24 points.

Ratios can be calculated. The smallest score for ratio data is 0. So 80 is 4 times 20. The score of 80 is 4 times better than the score of 20.


What type of measure scale is being used? Nominal, Ordinal, Interval or Ratio.

  1. High school men soccer players classified by their athletic ability: Superior, Average, Above average.
  2. Baking temperatures for various main dishes: 350, 400, 325, 250, 300
  3. The colors of crayons in a 24-crayon box.
  4. Social security numbers.
  5. Incomes measured in dollars
  6. A satisfaction survey of a social website by number: 1 very satisfied, 2 somewhat satisfied, 3 not satisfied.
  7. Political outlook: extreme left, left-of-center, right-of-center, extreme right.
  8. Time of day on an analog watch.
  9. The distance in miles to the closest grocery store.
  10. The dates 1066, 1492, 1644, 1947, 1944.
  11. The heights of 21 65 year-old women.
  12. Common letter grades A, B, C, D, F.

Answers 1. ordinal, 2. interval, 3. nominal, 4. nominal, 5. ratio, 6. ordinal, 7. nominal, 8. interval, 9. ratio, 10. interval, 11. ratio, 12. ordinal