Prevalence, Incidence, Rates, and Other Descriptive Measures
One of the most fundamental tasks that must be accomplished in the very beginning of any statistical analysis of research data is to specify and investigate the distribution of the particular phenomenon of interest in the study population or sample. In the most simple general terms, a researcher needs to know (a) how many persons in the study possess the trait being investigated and (b) how much of the trait these people have, or stated another way, how often these persons exhibit the trait. The former measure, which is qualitative and which concerns the classification of the population usually into two groups—those subjects that have the trait versus those persons that do not—is known as prevalence. The latter measurement, which is quantitative and which is concerned with counting the number of times that the trait is observed is known as incidence. These two measures, prevalence and incidence, are the fundamental raw material of any social science research involving human subjects, regardless of whether the research is testing a social science theory, evaluating a particular treatment program, or merely exploring and describing a set of data.
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