What is Categorical Data? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Defining Data
  • 0:33 Understanding Categorical Data
  • 1:43 Categorical vs…
  • 2:49 Using Categorical Data
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

Categorical data is one of two types of data that you can collect when conducting research. This lesson will teach you how to understand and use categorical data.

Defining Data

Andy is working on a class project about genetics. He needs to collect data about each of his classmates' genes and analyze this data for his class project. Where should Andy start collecting his data?

First, he will need to understand data, which is information that is collected for analysis. Data is generally used to either prove or disprove a hypothesis. Data can be grouped into two different types of information: categorical and quantitative.

In this lesson, you will learn about categorical data and how it is used in statistics.

Understanding Categorical Data

Categorical data is data that is collected in groups or topics; the number of events in each group is counted numerically. For example, if I wanted to understand the different types of reading interests in my office, then I could collect categorical data to identify the genre of books that each of my coworkers like. I can organize that data into a table like this:

Table for example
example of table of categorical data

In this example, 4 people said they liked mystery, 3 people like romance, 6 like science fiction, and 8 like fantasy.

Andy can use this same method of gathering categorical data for his project.

First, Andy will need to determine the different categories of information that he wants to collect for his class. He wants to know about hair color, eye color, cleft chins, and detached earlobes. He hands out a survey to the 22 people in his class.

Andy can create a table based on the data that he collected. Take a look:

Table for class project example
example table of data

Each part of this table shows the categorical data that was collected and can be used by Andy in his research. Before we talk about analyzing this data, let's discuss the difference between categorical and quantitative data.

Categorical vs. Quantitative Data

Sometimes, it can be difficult to understand the differences between categorical and quantitative data. Remember, categorical data, as the name implies, is grouped into some sort of category or multiple categories. Quantitative data is related to quantities. Things like height, weight, GPA, number of hours spent studying, and other types of information that are quantitative and are collected just as numbers.

A good way to remember the difference between categorical and quantitative data is to examine the answer to the question. If the answer is a number, then the data is quantitative. If the answer is a preference, a characteristic, or anything other than a number, then the data is categorical.

For example, if you ask someone, How tall are you? they would answer with a number: 5 foot 6 inches. If someone asked, What's your favorite sport? then they would answer with a preference: Basketball. Therefore, the first question gives us quantitative data and the second gives us categorical data.

Now that you understand the difference between categorical and quantitative data, let's look at how you can use categorical data in statistics.

Using Categorical Data

Categorical data is best analyzed by converting the information in a table into percentages. For example, Andy's data can be best analyzed by converting the totals for each category into a percentage. This way he knows the percent of each genetic characteristic.

Table with percentages for example
data shown as percents

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