Glossary of Statistical Terms: Definition Ordinal scale

Ordinal scales permit us to establish a hierarchy (better/worse, bigger/smaller, etc.) using rank values. In terms of levels of measurement, ordinal scales come in above the nominal scale. As for location parameters, mode and median can be identified.

A typical example of an ordinal scale is ranking in the military (a general stands above a lieutenant, a lieutenant above a sergeant, etc.).

Within an ordinal scale we cannot calculate an average (or arithmetic mean). An example: a survey asks about consumer behavior regarding different flavors of ice cream. The respondents have to specify for the varieties strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, whether they like each flavor (1) not at all, (2) not very, (3) quite like or (4) very much. Looking at the results of the survey, we can calculate, whether strawberry ice cream is more popular than vanilla. We cannot establish, however, how much stronger the affection for strawberry ice cream is. 

Please note that the definitions in our statistics encyclopedia are simplified explanations of terms. Our goal is to make the definitions accessible for a broad audience; thus it is possible that some definitions do not adhere entirely to scientific standards.

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