Spearman's rho - overview

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Spearman's rho
Two sample $z$ test
Variable 1Independent/grouping variable
One of ordinal levelOne categorical with 2 independent groups
Variable 2Dependent variable
One of ordinal levelOne quantitative of interval or ratio level
Null hypothesisNull hypothesis
H0: $\rho_s = 0$

Here $\rho_s$ is the Spearman correlation in the population. The Spearman correlation is a measure for the strength and direction of the monotonic relationship between two variables of at least ordinal measurement level.

In words, the null hypothesis would be:

H0: there is no monotonic relationship between the two variables in the population.
H0: $\mu_1 = \mu_2$

Here $\mu_1$ is the population mean for group 1, and $\mu_2$ is the population mean for group 2.
Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
H1 two sided: $\rho_s \neq 0$
H1 right sided: $\rho_s > 0$
H1 left sided: $\rho_s < 0$
H1 two sided: $\mu_1 \neq \mu_2$
H1 right sided: $\mu_1 > \mu_2$
H1 left sided: $\mu_1 < \mu_2$
AssumptionsAssumptions
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
Note: this assumption is only important for the significance test, not for the correlation coefficient itself. The correlation coefficient itself just measures the strength of the monotonic relationship between two variables.
  • Within each population, the scores on the dependent variable are normally distributed
  • Population standard deviations $\sigma_1$ and $\sigma_2$ are known
  • Group 1 sample is a simple random sample (SRS) from population 1, group 2 sample is an independent SRS from population 2. That is, within and between groups, observations are independent of one another
Test statisticTest statistic
$t = \dfrac{r_s \times \sqrt{N - 2}}{\sqrt{1 - r_s^2}} $
Here $r_s$ is the sample Spearman correlation and $N$ is the sample size. The sample Spearman correlation $r_s$ is equal to the Pearson correlation applied to the rank scores.
$z = \dfrac{(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) - 0}{\sqrt{\dfrac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \dfrac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}} = \dfrac{\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2}{\sqrt{\dfrac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \dfrac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}}$
Here $\bar{y}_1$ is the sample mean in group 1, $\bar{y}_2$ is the sample mean in group 2, $\sigma^2_1$ is the population variance in population 1, $\sigma^2_2$ is the population variance in population 2, $n_1$ is the sample size of group 1, and $n_2$ is the sample size of group 2. The 0 represents the difference in population means according to the null hypothesis.

The denominator $\sqrt{\frac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \frac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}$ is the standard deviation of the sampling distribution of $\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2$. The $z$ value indicates how many of these standard deviations $\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2$ is removed from 0.

Note: we could just as well compute $\bar{y}_2 - \bar{y}_1$ in the numerator, but then the left sided alternative becomes $\mu_2 < \mu_1$, and the right sided alternative becomes $\mu_2 > \mu_1$.
Sampling distribution of $t$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $z$ if H0 were true
Approximately the $t$ distribution with $N - 2$ degrees of freedomStandard normal distribution
Significant?Significant?
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided: Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
n.a.$C\%$ confidence interval for $\mu_1 - \mu_2$
-$(\bar{y}_1 - \bar{y}_2) \pm z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1} + \dfrac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}$
where the critical value $z^*$ is the value under the normal curve with the area $C / 100$ between $-z^*$ and $z^*$ (e.g. $z^*$ = 1.96 for a 95% confidence interval).

The confidence interval for $\mu_1 - \mu_2$ can also be used as significance test.
n.a.Visual representation
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Two sample z test
Example contextExample context
Is there a monotonic relationship between physical health and mental health?Is the average mental health score different between men and women? Assume that in the population, the standard devation of the mental health scores is $\sigma_1 = 2$ amongst men and $\sigma_2 = 2.5$ amongst women.
SPSSn.a.
Analyze > Correlate > Bivariate...
  • Put your two variables in the box below Variables
  • Under Correlation Coefficients, select Spearman
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Jamovin.a.
Regression > Correlation Matrix
  • Put your two variables in the white box at the right
  • Under Correlation Coefficients, select Spearman
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
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Practice questionsPractice questions