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Categories and Population Proportions

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Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


Chapters 7–10 dealt with making estimates about a population on the basis of a sample when the observation of interest was a measurement whose mean or median in the population we wished to estimate. In Chapter 6 we discussed a different kind of observation, one based on categories rather than measurements. If the observation of interest involves a set of categories rather than a measurement, it of course makes no sense to think in terms of the center of a batch or its spread. Rather, we approach the batch in terms of proportions. When we observe categories in a sample, then, our basic thought about the population from which the sample was selected concerns the proportions of the different categories in the population, not the mean or median of anything. The estimation of a population proportion on the basis of a sample is quite similar to the estimation of a population mean on the basis of a sample, so in this chapter we will treat proportions as an extension of the principles applied to means in the previous three chapters. Suppose that we examine the raw materials used to manufacture the projectile points in the sample of 100 projectile points discussed in Chapter 9. We may find that, of the 100 points, 13 are made of obsidian. Since the number in the sample is 100, the proportion of points made of obsidian in the sample is 13/100 or 13.0%. What does this tell us about the large and vaguely defined population that the sample of 100 points came from? Just as with means, the sample proportion is the likeliest single value for the proportion in the population from which the sample was selected. Thus, the best estimate of the population proportion, based on this sample, is 13.0%.


  • Confidence Level
  • Error Range
  • Population Proportion
  • Population Means
  • Decimal Fraction

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Correspondence to Robert D. Drennan .

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Drennan, R.D. (2009). Categories and Population Proportions. In: Statistics for Archaeologists. Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology. Springer, Boston, MA.

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