What Type of Data Is Displayed in Contingency Tables?


Angela Bailey

Contingency tables are a powerful tool in statistics that allow us to analyze the relationship between two categorical variables. They are widely used in various fields, including social sciences, marketing research, and healthcare. Understanding what type of data is displayed in contingency tables is essential for interpreting and drawing meaningful conclusions from them.

What is a Contingency Table?

A contingency table, also known as a cross-tabulation table or a crosstab, is a tabular representation of the joint distribution of two or more categorical variables. It presents the frequency or count of each combination of categories for the variables being considered.


Consider a survey conducted to study the relationship between gender and favorite ice cream flavor. The resulting contingency table could look something like this:

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor
Gender Vanilla Chocolate Strawberry
Males 15 20 10
Females 25 10 15

In this example, the contingency table displays the counts for each combination of gender and favorite ice cream flavor. The row headers represent the different genders (in bold), while the column headers represent the different flavors. The numbers in cells represent the counts or frequencies.

Types of Data in Contingency Tables

In contingency tables, the data displayed can be classified into three main types:

1. Marginal Totals

Marginal totals are the sums of counts for each category, either along rows or columns. In the example above, the row and column totals represent the marginal totals.

2. Joint Frequencies

Joint frequencies are the counts that represent the number of observations falling into specific combinations of categories. In our ice cream example, the numbers in each cell of the table represent joint frequencies.

3. Conditional Frequencies

Conditional frequencies are derived by dividing joint frequencies by their corresponding marginal totals. They indicate the proportion or percentage of observations falling into specific combinations of categories relative to a particular category’s total count.

To calculate conditional frequencies, we can divide each cell value by its respective row or column total and multiply it by 100 if we want to express it as a percentage.

Interpreting Contingency Tables

Contingency tables provide valuable insights into the relationship between categorical variables. By analyzing the data displayed in these tables, we can identify patterns, associations, and dependencies between variables.

  • Row Percentages: Looking at row percentages allows us to determine how strongly one variable depends on another variable while keeping one variable constant.
  • Column Percentages: Analyzing column percentages helps us understand how one variable is distributed across different categories of another variable.
  • Total Percentages: Total percentages provide an overall view of how one variable is distributed across all categories of the other variable.

Example Interpretation:

Referring back to our ice cream example, we can observe that vanilla ice cream is the most preferred flavor among both males and females. However, chocolate seems to be more popular among males than females, while strawberry is more popular among females than males.

By calculating row percentages or column percentages, we can further analyze the relationship between gender and favorite ice cream flavor. For instance, we might find that females are more likely to prefer strawberry ice cream compared to males.

In conclusion, contingency tables are a valuable tool for analyzing categorical data. By understanding the different types of data displayed in these tables and interpreting them correctly, we can gain meaningful insights into the relationship between variables and make informed decisions.

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