Nominal, Ordinal & Quantitative

Nominal

A Nominal variable (sometimes called a categorical variable) is one that has two or more categories, but there is no intrinsic ordering to the categories or is qualitative. For example, gender is a categorical variable having two categories (male and female) and there is no intrinsic ordering to the categories. Hair color is also a categorical variable having a number of categories (blonde, brown, brunette, red, etc.) and again, there is no agreed way to order these from highest to lowest. A purely categorical variable is one that simply allows you to assign categories but you cannot clearly order the variables. If the variable has a clear ordering, then that variable would be an ordinal variable, as described below.

Ordinal

An ordinal variable is similar to a nominal variable yet the difference between the two is that ordinals have a clear ordering and can be quanitative.  For example, suppose you have a variable, economic status, with three categories (low, medium and high).  In addition to being able to classify people into these three categories, you can order the categories as low, medium and high. Now consider a variable like educational experience (with values such as elementary school graduate, high school graduate, some college and college graduate). These also can be ordered as elementary school, high school, some college, and college graduate.  Even though we can order these from lowest to highest, the spacing between the values may not be the same across the levels of the variables.  Say we assign scores 1, 2, 3 and 4 to these four levels of educational experience and we compare the difference in education between categories one and two with the difference in educational experience between categories two and three, or the difference between categories three and four. The difference between categories one and two (elementary and high school) is probably much bigger than the difference between categories two and three (high school and some college).  In this example, we can order the people in level of educational experience but the size of the difference between categories is inconsistent (because the spacing between categories one and two is bigger than categories two and three).  If these categories were equally spaced, then the variable would be an interval variable.

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