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Categorical Data: Definition, Analysis & Examples

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Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects primarily in Communication, Mathematics, and Technology. Cat has a Master's degree in Education.

Categorical data is often used in mathematical and scientific data collection. In this lesson, you will learn the definition of categorical data and analyze examples. When you've finished, review what you've learned with a short quiz.

We also recommend watching What is Bivariate Data? - Definition & Examples and Spread in Data Sets: Definition, Example, Lesson & Quiz

Data Explained

Data, in mathematical and scientific speak, is a group of information collected. This information could be anything, and can be used to prove or disprove a hypothesis (or scientific guess) during an experiment. Data that can be collected can be height, weight, a person's opinion on a political issue, the number of people that catch a certain cold over a year, and so much more. Data is usually grouped into two different types of information: categorical and numerical. In this lesson, we'll talk about categorical data.

What Is Categorical Data?

All data collected is collected in the form of numbers, but we don't often know what those numbers mean. Categorical data puts a meaning to those numbers. If I gave you the numbers 4, 10, and 12 you wouldn't know what to do with them or what they mean. However, if I said there are 4 blondes in a class, 10 redheads, and 12 brunettes you would have a better understanding of what those numbers mean. That's because I grouped those numbers into categories.

What to look for when identifying categorical data:

Categories: Categorical data, as the name implies, is grouped into some sort of category or multiple categories. For example, if I were to collect information about a person's pet preferences, I would have to group that information by the type of pet. Categorical data is also data that is collected in an either/or or yes/no fashion. For example, if I were to ask the people in my office to check yes/no on whether they had children, then I can display that information in a bar graph or a pie chart comparing co-workers that had children versus co-workers that do not have children.

Identifying Categorical Data

Look at the example below. Can you identify the categorical data?

Identifying Categorical Data
Identifying Categorical Data

Jill is collecting information about her restaurant's pizza sales. On the left, she has created a chart showing the number of pizzas sold, divided by the type of pizza. On the right, she has the amount of money made from the pizza sales that month. Which information is categorical data?

How did you do? In this example the categorical data is the number of pizzas sold, grouped by types.

Let's try another one:

Look at the example below. Can you identify the categorical data?

Michael is collecting information about television programming. He sent out a survey asking the following questions:

  1. Which TV programs do you watch the most often?
  2. Approximately how many hours of television do you watch each day?
  3. How many people live in your household?
  4. What are the age groups of the people in your household?

(0-5) (6-10) (11-15) (16-20) (21-30) (31-40) (41-50) (51-60) (61+)

Which questions asked for information that could be collected as categorical data?

How did you do? In this example, the categorical data is questions one and four. You can make a bar graph or a pie graph out of the information that is gathered from either question. Both questions require you to separate the information by categories. For question number one, you would have to group the information by the television program named or by the genre of television programming. For question number four, you would have to group the information by which age group was selected.

Lesson Summary

Data that is collected can be either categorical or numerical data. Numbers often don't make sense unless you assign meaning to those numbers. Categorical data helps you do that. Categorical data is when numbers are collected in groups or categories. Categorical data is also data that is collected in an either/or or yes/no situation.

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