Statistics How To

Difference Between a Statistic and a Parameter

Probability and Statistics > Basic Statistics > Difference Between a Statistic and a Parameter

Before you start, you may want to read these overviews:
What is a Statistic?
What is a Parameter?

What is the Difference Between a Statistic and a Parameter?

A statistic and a parameter are very similar. They are both descriptions of groups, like “50% of dog owners prefer X Brand dog food.” The difference between a statistic and a parameter is that statistics describe a sample. A parameter describes an entire population.

Watch the video or read the steps below:

For example, you randomly poll voters in an election. You find that 55% of the population plans to vote for candidate A. That is a statistic. Why? You only asked a sample of the population who they are voting for. You calculated what the population was likely to do based on the sample.

Difference Between a Statistic and a Parameter

Censuses result in a parameter about the population.

You could ask a class of third graders who likes vanilla ice cream. 90% raise their hands. You have a parameter: 90% of that class likes vanilla ice cream. You know this because you asked everyone in the class.

Steps to tell the difference between a statistic and a parameter:

Step 1: Ask yourself, is this a fact about the whole population? Sometimes that’s easy to figure out. For example, with small populations, you usually have a parameter because the groups are small enough to measure:

  • 10% of US senators voted for a particular measure. There are only 100 US Senators, you can count what every single one of them voted.
  • 40% of 1,211 students at a particular elementary school got below a 3 on a standardized test. You know this because you have each and every students’ test score.
  • 33% of 120 workers at a particular bike factory were paid less than $20,000 per year. You have the payroll data for all of the workers.

Step 2: Ask yourself, is this obviously a fact about a very large population? If it is, you have a statistic.

  • 60% of US residents agree with the latest health care proposal. It’s not possible to actually ask hundreds of millions of people whether they agree. Researchers have to just take samples and calculate the rest, so this is a statistic.
  • 45% of Jacksonville, Florida residents report that they have been to at least one Jaguars game. It’s very doubtful that anyone polled in excess of a million people for this data. They took a sample, so they have a statistic.
  • 30% of dog owners poop scoop after their dog. It’s impossible to survey all dog owners—no one keeps an accurate track of exactly how many people own dogs. This data had to be from a sample, so it’s a statistic.

If in doubt, think about the time and cost involved in surveying an entire population. If you can’t imagine anyone wanting to spend the time or the money to survey a large number (or impossible number) in a certain group, then you almost certainly are looking at a statistic.

Like the explanation? Check out the Practically Cheating Statistics Handbook, which has hundreds more step-by-step explanations, just like this one!

If you prefer an online interactive environment to learn R and statistics, this free R Tutorial by Datacamp is a great way to get started. If you’re are somewhat comfortable with R and are interested in going deeper into Statistics, try this Statistics with R track.

Difference Between a Statistic and a Parameter was last modified: June 25th, 2017 by Stephanie

29 thoughts on “Difference Between a Statistic and a Parameter

  1. Ojoade Omoniyi Andrew

    this is where statistics is made simple i think i can recommend this to my statistics colleagues

  2. Ezeh Juliet Okechinyere

    Most people study this course without knowing the meaning of some some statistical terms. please fellow statisticians,you are to visit this site where statistics is made simple.thank you

  3. Iniesta

    Yep! That was a good definition and explanation. I wish u were a little bit farther in the explanation. Thank you so much. I have learnt what I need to learn.

  4. Danny

    Like most people already said this was very helpful; clear as day. I certainly will use this site to help with my Stats class.

  5. Sheila Turner

    Just 5 minutes on this site has helped me. Please be there for me, this is my second time in stats class.

  6. Andrew Jaundoo

    this is cool understandable :D .. thanks a lot to the person(s) that posted this.

  7. Andrew Jaundoo

    I meant so lolz, I was gonna post this is cool but decide to change it and forget to edit back … smh.. nyway thanks a lot :D

  8. Shashi

    I am a beginner .Your blog helps me alot. You are a godsend to help me in building my career in analytics. Much gratitude

  9. Misbahu L. Hamza

    It was after watching the video on YouTube I decided to visit the site and see what’s cooking. As I read this article, I now have more knowledge on the subject. I can only say may God bless you. You guys are doing a great job.

    Thank you.

  10. Dillon Bruce

    Excellent explanation of this subject. I was confused in the beginning about the difference, however now I understand thanks to this wonderful article. Thank You!

  11. Manal

    List 3 parameter for an experiment
    Pls I need answer for this q and video to explining
    Thank you

  12. Andale

    There could literally be billions of parameters for an experiment. For example “All animals kept in zoos”, “All people who owns IPhones,” “Everyone taking a statistics class.” Did you have any other guidelines?

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