Scales of Measurement in Statistics
Measurement scales are used to categorize and/or quantify variables.
This lesson describes the four scales of measurement that are
commonly used in statistical analysis: nominal, ordinal, interval,
and ratio scales.
Properties of Measurement Scales
Each scale of measurement satisfies one or more of the following properties of
- Identity. Each value on
the measurement scale has a unique meaning.
- Magnitude. Values on
the measurement scale have an ordered relationship to one another.
That is, some values are larger and some are smaller.
- Equal intervals. Scale units along the scale are
equal to one another. This means, for example,
that the difference between
1 and 2 would be equal to the difference between 19 and 20.
- A minimum value of zero. The scale has a true zero point, below
which no values exist.
Nominal Scale of Measurement
The nominal scale of measurement only satisfies the identity property of
measurement. Values assigned to variables represent a descriptive category, but
have no inherent numerical value with respect to magnitude.
Gender is an example of a variable that is measured on a nominal scale. Individuals
may be classified as "male" or "female", but neither value represents more
or less "gender" than the other. Religion and political affiliation are
other examples of variables that are normally measured on a nominal scale.
Ordinal Scale of Measurement
The ordinal scale has the property of both identity and magnitude. Each value on
the ordinal scale has a unique meaning, and it has an ordered relationship to
every other value on the scale.
An example of an ordinal scale in action would be the results of a horse
race, reported as "win", "place", and "show". We know the rank order in which
horses finished the race. The horse that won finished ahead of the horse that
placed, and the horse that placed finished ahead of the horse that showed.
However, we cannot tell from this ordinal scale whether it was a close
race or whether the winning horse won by a mile.
Interval Scale of Measurement
The interval scale of measurement has the properties of identity, magnitude, and
A perfect example of an interval scale is the Fahrenheit scale to measure
temperature. The scale is made up of equal temperature units, so that the
difference between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit is equal to the difference
between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
With an interval scale, you know not only whether different values are bigger
or smaller, you also know how much bigger or smaller they are. For
example, suppose it is 60 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday and 70 degrees on
Tuesday. You know not only that it was hotter on Tuesday, you also know
that it was 10 degrees hotter.
Ratio Scale of Measurement
The ratio scale of measurement satisfies all four of the properties of
measurement: identity, magnitude, equal intervals, and a minimum value of zero.
The weight of an object would be an example of a ratio scale. Each value on
the weight scale has a unique meaning, weights can be rank ordered, units
along the weight scale are equal to one another, and the scale has a minimum value of
Weight scales have a minimum value of zero because
objects at rest can be weightless, but they cannot have negative weight.
Test Your Understanding
Consider the centigrade scale for measuring temperature. Which of the following
measurement properties is satisfied by the centigrade scale?
II. Equal intervals.
III. A minimum value of zero.
(A) I only
(B) II only
(C) III only
(D) I and II
(E) II and III
The correct answer is (D). The centigrade scale has the magnitude property because
each value on the scale can be ranked as larger or smaller than any other value.
And it has the equal intervals property because the scale is made up of equal
However, the centigrade scale does not have a minimum value of zero. Water freezes at
zero degrees centigrade, but temperatures get colder than that. In the arctic,
temperatures are almost always below zero.