Ecological correlation

Ecological correlation

In statistics, an ecological correlation is a correlation between two variables that are group means, in contrast to a correlation between two variables that describe individuals. For example, one might study the correlation between physical activity and weight among sixth-grade children. A study at the individual level might make use of 100 children, then measure both physical activity and weight; the correlation between the two variables would be at the individual level. By contrast, another study might make use of 100 classes of sixth-grade students, then measure the mean physical activity and the mean weight of each of the 100 classes. A correlation between these group means would be an example of an ecological correlation.

Assuming that what holds true for the group also holds true for the individual is often called the ecological fallacy. When the fallacy can be avoided, some researchers suggest that the ecological correlation gives a better picture of the outcome of public policy actions, thus they recommend the ecological correlation over the individual level correlation for this purpose (Lubinski & Humphreys, 1996).


* Lubinski, D., & Humphreys, L. G. (1996). Seeing the forest from the trees: When predicting the behavior or status of groups, correlate means. "Psychology, Public Policy, and Law", volume 2, pages 363-376.

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