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# Types of Variables

Objective:
Students should be able to identify the different types of
variables, and know the characteristics of each type

Types of Variables
Categorical (data that are counted)
Nominal
Ordinal
Quantitative or Numerical (data that are measured)
Interval
Ratio
Why is the type of variable important?

The methods used to display, summarize, and analyze data depend on whether the
variables are categorical or quantitative.
Types of Variables:
Categorical
Nominal
Variables that are named, i.e. classified into one or more
qualitative categories that describe the characteristic of interest

no ordering of the different categories
no measure of distance between values
categories can be listed in any order without affecting
the relationship between them
Nominal variables are the simplest type of variable
Nominal
In medicine, nominal variables are often used to
describe the patient. Examples of nominal variables
might include:
Gender (male, female)
Eye color (blue, brown, green, hazel)
Blood type (A, B, AB, O)
Note: When only two possible categories exist, the variable is sometimes called
dichotomous, binary, or binomial.
Ordinal
Variables that have an inherent order to the relationship
among the different categories

an implied ordering of the categories (levels)
quantitative distance between levels is unknown
distances between the levels may not be the same
meaning of different levels may not be the same
for different individuals
Note: The scale of measurement for most ordinal variables is called a Likert scale.
Ordinal
In medicine, ordinal variables often describe the patients
characteristics, attitude, behavior, or status. Examples of
ordinal variables might include:

Stage of cancer (stage I, II, III, IV)
Education level (elementary, secondary, college)
Pain level (mild, moderate, severe)
Satisfaction level (very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral,
satisfied, very satisfied)
Agreement level (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree,
strongly agree)
Types of Variables:
Quantitative/Numerical
Interval
Variables that have constant, equal distances between
values, but the zero point is arbitrary.

Examples of interval variables:
Intelligence (IQ test score of 100, 110, 120, etc.)
Pain level (1-10 scale)
Body length in infant
Ratio
Variables have equal intervals between values, the zero
point is meaningful, and the numerical relationships
between numbers is meaningful.
Examples of ratio variables:
Weight (50 kilos, 100 kilos, 150 kilos, etc.)
Pulse rate
Respiratory rate

Levels of Measurement
Higher level variables can always be expressed at a lower level,
but the reverse is not true.
For example, Body Mass Index (BMI) is typically measured at an
interval-level such as 23.4.
BMI can be collapsed into lower-level Ordinal categories such as:
>30: Obese
25-29.9: Overweight
<25: Underweight
or Nominal categories such as:
Overweight
Not overweight
Discrete Data
Quantitative or Numerical variables that are measured
in each individual in a data set, but can only be whole
numbers.
Examples are counts of objects or occurrences:
Number of children in household
Number of relapses
Number of admissions to a hospital
Continuous Data
Quantitative or Numerical variables that are measured in
each individual in a data set.
Continuous variables can theoretically take on an infinite
number of values - the accuracy of the measurement is
limited only by the measuring instrument.
Note: Continuous data often include decimals or fractions of numbers.

Continuous Data
Examples of continuous variables:
Height, weight, heart rate, blood pressure,
serum cholesterol, age, temperature
A persons height may be measured and recorded as 60
cm, but in theory the true height could be an infinite
number of values:
height may be 60.123456789..cm
or 59.892345678..cm
Classification of variables in The Bypass Angioplasty Revascularization Investigation

Variable
CABG
(n=914)
PTCA
(n=915)
Type of
Variable
Age (years, mean SD) 61.1 3.2 61.8 3.7

Weight (kg, mean SD) 80.9 5.6 78.8 6.0

Gender [#, (%)]
Males
Females

676 (74%)
238 (26%)

668 (73%)
247 (27%)

Education [#, (%)]
High School
Some College

192 (21%)
457 (50%)
165 (18%)
100 (11%)

192 (21%)
458 (50%)
165 (18%)
100 (11%)

Prior Hospitalizations (mean SD) 4.0 0.6 3.8 0.6

Post Treatment Mortality
Alive at 5 Years