Copula Distributions

List of Statistical Distributions > Copula distributions

What are copula distributions?

Copulas (from the Latin link) are invaluable tools for understanding complex variables and their interrelationships. Copula distributions allow us to better identify dependencies between random variables in multivariate settings by combining independently specified marginal probability functions with copula densities. In other words, a copula helps to isolate joint or marginal probabilities of two variables in a multivariate system.

More specifically, any multivariate distribution can be constructed with a marginal distribution and a copula function, which isolates a multivariate distribution’s dependency structure. The formal definition is:

A d-dimensional copula, C : [0, 1]d : → [0, 1] is a cumulative distribution function (CDF) with uniform marginals [1].

When the individual marginals all have a uniform distribution over U(0, 1), specialists can then use them in fields such as finance (pricing securities) [1]. In risk analysis, model selection for Copula distributions can be used to link multiple risk processes [2]. In linguistics, grammatical copulas link parts of a sentence. They are not related to the copula distribution, despite sharing the same name.

Types of Copula Distributions

The Copula family of distributions covers a range of functions, each with unique tail behavior. Among these are the Binary Clayton, Frank, and Gumbel distributions. These can be used to study correlation between variables; the Binary Clayton is best for finding lower-tail correlations while its asymmetrical counterpart -the Binary Gumbel – excels at identifying upper-tailed ones.

  1. Binary Clayton Copula Distribution function: This variant has an asymmetrical tail with an upper tail correlation coefficient of zero. It is suitable for finding the lower tail correlation between variables: copula distributions
  2. Binary Frank Copula distribution function: This type has a symmetrical, independent tail with correlation coefficients of zero for both tails: binary pdf 2
  3. Binary Gumbel Copula Distribution function: This type has an asymmetrical tail with a lower tail correlation coefficient of zero. It is suitable for calculating upper tail correlation between variables: binary gumbel 2 pdf
  4. Binary t-student Copula Distribution function: This variant has a thick symmetrical tail, so sensitive to changes in random variables affecting tails. binary t student copula distribution

Usage notes

Through the use of copulas, we can construct joint distributions in two steps: first, decide on appropriate marginals and then add a dependence structure. Once selected for both marginal and copula distribution models, estimating their respective parameters often occurs independently from each other. Different combinations of marginals may produce completely distinct joint distributions with only unchanged dependence structures via the same selection of Copulas.

One downside to using copulas is that they are somewhat esoteric in nature, which means that they can be difficult to understand and use — and easily misapplied. For most real world applications — such as in securities — sophisticated algorithms and computers must be used.


  1. Haugh, M. (2016). An Introduction to Copulas. Retrieved April 13, 2019 from: An
  2. Cruz, M. et al. (2015). Fundamental Aspects of Operational Risk and Insurance Analytics: A Handbook of Operational Risk (Wiley Handbooks in Financial Engineering and Econometrics) 1st Edition. Wiley.
  3. Xue et al. (2019). Proceedings of PURPLE MOUNTAIN FORUM 2019-International Forum on Smart Grid Protection and Control, Volume 2. Springer.

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