z test for the difference between two proportions - overview

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$z$ test for the difference between two proportions
McNemar's test
Wilcoxon signed-rank test
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Independent/grouping variableIndependent variableIndependent variable
One categorical with 2 independent groups2 paired groups2 paired groups
Dependent variableDependent variableDependent variable
One categorical with 2 independent groupsOne categorical with 2 independent groupsOne quantitative of interval or ratio level
Null hypothesisNull hypothesisNull hypothesis
H0: $\pi_1 = \pi_2$

Here $\pi_1$ is the population proportion of 'successes' for group 1, and $\pi_2$ is the population proportion of 'successes' for group 2.

Let's say that the scores on the dependent variable are scored 0 and 1. Then for each pair of scores, the data allow four options:

  1. First score of pair is 0, second score of pair is 0
  2. First score of pair is 0, second score of pair is 1 (switched)
  3. First score of pair is 1, second score of pair is 0 (switched)
  4. First score of pair is 1, second score of pair is 1
The null hypothesis H0 is that for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 0 while second score of pair is 1) = P(first score of pair is 1 while second score of pair is 0). That is, the probability that a pair of scores switches from 0 to 1 is the same as the probability that a pair of scores switches from 1 to 0.

Other formulations of the null hypothesis are:

  • H0: $\pi_1 = \pi_2$, where $\pi_1$ is the population proportion of ones for the first paired group and $\pi_2$ is the population proportion of ones for the second paired group
  • H0: for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 1) = P(second score of pair is 1)

H0: $m = 0$

Here $m$ is the population median of the difference scores. A difference score is the difference between the first score of a pair and the second score of a pair.

Several different formulations of the null hypothesis can be found in the literature, and we do not agree with all of them. Make sure you (also) learn the one that is given in your text book or by your teacher.
Alternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesisAlternative hypothesis
H1 two sided: $\pi_1 \neq \pi_2$
H1 right sided: $\pi_1 > \pi_2$
H1 left sided: $\pi_1 < \pi_2$

The alternative hypothesis H1 is that for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 0 while second score of pair is 1) $\neq$ P(first score of pair is 1 while second score of pair is 0). That is, the probability that a pair of scores switches from 0 to 1 is not the same as the probability that a pair of scores switches from 1 to 0.

Other formulations of the alternative hypothesis are:

  • H1: $\pi_1 \neq \pi_2$
  • H1: for each pair of scores, P(first score of pair is 1) $\neq$ P(second score of pair is 1)

H1 two sided: $m \neq 0$
H1 right sided: $m > 0$
H1 left sided: $m < 0$
AssumptionsAssumptionsAssumptions
  • Sample size is large enough for $z$ to be approximately normally distributed. Rule of thumb:
    • Significance test: number of successes and number of failures are each 5 or more in both sample groups
    • Regular (large sample) 90%, 95%, or 99% confidence interval: number of successes and number of failures are each 10 or more in both sample groups
    • Plus four 90%, 95%, or 99% confidence interval: sample sizes of both groups are 5 or more
  • 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
  • Sample of pairs is a simple random sample from the population of pairs. That is, pairs are independent of one another
  • The population distribution of the difference scores is symmetric
  • Sample of difference scores is a simple random sample from the population of difference scores. That is, difference scores are independent of one another
Note: sometimes it considered sufficient for the data to be measured on an ordinal scale, rather than an interval or ratio scale. However, since the test statistic is based on ranked difference scores, we need to know whether a change in scores from, say, 6 to 7 is larger than/smaller than/equal to a change from 5 to 6. This is impossible to know for ordinal scales, since for these scales the size of the difference between values is meaningless.
Test statisticTest statisticTest statistic
$z = \dfrac{p_1 - p_2}{\sqrt{p(1 - p)\Bigg(\dfrac{1}{n_1} + \dfrac{1}{n_2}\Bigg)}}$
Here $p_1$ is the sample proportion of successes in group 1: $\dfrac{X_1}{n_1}$, $p_2$ is the sample proportion of successes in group 2: $\dfrac{X_2}{n_2}$, $p$ is the total proportion of successes in the sample: $\dfrac{X_1 + X_2}{n_1 + n_2}$, $n_1$ is the sample size of group 1, and $n_2$ is the sample size of group 2.
Note: we could just as well compute $p_2 - p_1$ in the numerator, but then the left sided alternative becomes $\pi_2 < \pi_1$, and the right sided alternative becomes $\pi_2 > \pi_1.$
$X^2 = \dfrac{(b - c)^2}{b + c}$
Here $b$ is the number of pairs in the sample for which the first score is 0 while the second score is 1, and $c$ is the number of pairs in the sample for which the first score is 1 while the second score is 0.
Two different types of test statistics can be used, but both will result in the same test outcome. We will denote the first option the $W_1$ statistic (also known as the $T$ statistic), and the second option the $W_2$ statistic. In order to compute each of the test statistics, follow the steps below:
  1. For each subject, compute the sign of the difference score $\mbox{sign}_d = \mbox{sgn}(\mbox{score}_2 - \mbox{score}_1)$. The sign is 1 if the difference is larger than zero, -1 if the diffence is smaller than zero, and 0 if the difference is equal to zero.
  2. For each subject, compute the absolute value of the difference score $|\mbox{score}_2 - \mbox{score}_1|$.
  3. Exclude subjects with a difference score of zero. This leaves us with a remaining number of difference scores equal to $N_r$.
  4. Assign ranks $R_d$ to the $N_r$ remaining absolute difference scores. The smallest absolute difference score corresponds to a rank score of 1, and the largest absolute difference score corresponds to a rank score of $N_r$. If there are ties, assign them the average of the ranks they occupy.
Then compute the test statistic:

  • $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{+}$
    or
    $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{-}$
    That is, sum all ranks corresponding to a positive difference or sum all ranks corresponding to a negative difference. Theoratically, both definitions will result in the same test outcome. However:
    • tables with critical values for $W_1$ are usually based on the smaller of $\sum\, R_d^{+}$ and $\sum\, R_d^{-}$. So if you are using such a table, pick the smaller one.
    • If you are using the normal approximation to find the $p$ value, it makes things most straightforward if you use $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{+}$ (if you use $W_1 = \sum\, R_d^{-}$, the right and left sided alternative hypotheses 'flip').
  • $W_2 = \sum\, \mbox{sign}_d \times R_d$
    That is, for each remaining difference score, multiply the rank of the absolute difference score by the sign of the difference score, and then sum all of the products.
Sampling distribution of $z$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $X^2$ if H0 were trueSampling distribution of $W_1$ and of $W_2$ if H0 were true
Approximately the standard normal distribution

If $b + c$ is large enough (say, > 20), approximately the chi-squared distribution with 1 degree of freedom.

If $b + c$ is small, the Binomial($n$, $P$) distribution should be used, with $n = b + c$ and $P = 0.5$. In that case the test statistic becomes equal to $b$.

Sampling distribution of $W_1$:
If $N_r$ is large, $W_1$ is approximately normally distributed with mean $\mu_{W_1}$ and standard deviation $\sigma_{W_1}$ if the null hypothesis were true. Here $$\mu_{W_1} = \frac{N_r(N_r + 1)}{4}$$ $$\sigma_{W_1} = \sqrt{\frac{N_r(N_r + 1)(2N_r + 1)}{24}}$$ Hence, if $N_r$ is large, the standardized test statistic $$z = \frac{W_1 - \mu_{W_1}}{\sigma_{W_1}}$$ follows approximately the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.

Sampling distribution of $W_2$:
If $N_r$ is large, $W_2$ is approximately normally distributed with mean $0$ and standard deviation $\sigma_{W_2}$ if the null hypothesis were true. Here $$\sigma_{W_2} = \sqrt{\frac{N_r(N_r + 1)(2N_r + 1)}{6}}$$ Hence, if $N_r$ is large, the standardized test statistic $$z = \frac{W_2}{\sigma_{W_2}}$$ follows approximately the standard normal distribution if the null hypothesis were true.

If $N_r$ is small, the exact distribution of $W_1$ or $W_2$ should be used.

Note: if ties are present in the data, the formula for the standard deviations $\sigma_{W_1}$ and $\sigma_{W_2}$ is more complicated.
Significant?Significant?Significant?
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided: For test statistic $X^2$:
  • Check if $X^2$ observed in sample is equal to or larger than critical value $X^{2*}$ or
  • Find $p$ value corresponding to observed $X^2$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
If $b + c$ is small, the table for the binomial distribution should be used, with as test statistic $b$:
  • Check if $b$ observed in sample is in the rejection region or
  • Find two sided $p$ value corresponding to observed $b$ and check if it is equal to or smaller than $\alpha$
For large samples, the table for standard normal probabilities can be used:
Two sided: Right sided: Left sided:
Approximate $C\%$ confidence interval for $\pi_1 - \pi_2$n.a.n.a.
Regular (large sample):
  • $(p_1 - p_2) \pm z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{p_1(1 - p_1)}{n_1} + \dfrac{p_2(1 - p_2)}{n_2}}$
    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)
With plus four method:
  • $(p_{1.plus} - p_{2.plus}) \pm z^* \times \sqrt{\dfrac{p_{1.plus}(1 - p_{1.plus})}{n_1 + 2} + \dfrac{p_{2.plus}(1 - p_{2.plus})}{n_2 + 2}}$
    where $p_{1.plus} = \dfrac{X_1 + 1}{n_1 + 2}$, $p_{2.plus} = \dfrac{X_2 + 1}{n_2 + 2}$, and 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)
--
Equivalent toEquivalent ton.a.
When testing two sided: chi-squared test for the relationship between two categorical variables, where both categorical variables have 2 levels.-
Example contextExample contextExample context
Is the proportion of smokers different between men and women? Use the normal approximation for the sampling distribution of the test statistic.Does a tv documentary about spiders change whether people are afraid (yes/no) of spiders?Is the median of the differences between the mental health scores before and after an intervention different from 0?
SPSSSPSSSPSS
SPSS does not have a specific option for the $z$ test for the difference between two proportions. However, you can do the chi-squared test instead. The $p$ value resulting from this chi-squared test is equivalent to the two sided $p$ value that would have resulted from the $z$ test. Go to:

Analyze > Descriptive Statistics > Crosstabs...
  • Put your independent (grouping) variable in the box below Row(s), and your dependent variable in the box below Column(s)
  • Click the Statistics... button, and click on the square in front of Chi-square
  • Continue and click OK
Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > Legacy Dialogs > 2 Related Samples...
  • Put the two paired variables in the boxes below Variable 1 and Variable 2
  • Under Test Type, select the McNemar test
Analyze > Nonparametric Tests > Legacy Dialogs > 2 Related Samples...
  • Put the two paired variables in the boxes below Variable 1 and Variable 2
  • Under Test Type, select the Wilcoxon test
JamoviJamoviJamovi
Jamovi does not have a specific option for the $z$ test for the difference between two proportions. However, you can do the chi-squared test instead. The $p$ value resulting from this chi-squared test is equivalent to the two sided $p$ value that would have resulted from the $z$ test. Go to:

Frequencies > Independent Samples - $\chi^2$ test of association
  • Put your independent (grouping) variable in the box below Rows, and your dependent variable in the box below Columns
Frequencies > Paired Samples - McNemar test
  • Put one of the two paired variables in the box below Rows and the other paired variable in the box below Columns
T-Tests > Paired Samples T-Test
  • Put the two paired variables in the box below Paired Variables, one on the left side of the vertical line and one on the right side of the vertical line
  • Under Tests, select Wilcoxon rank
  • Under Hypothesis, select your alternative hypothesis
Practice questionsPractice questionsPractice questions