Quant: Parametric and Non-Parametric Stats

There are numerous times when the information collected from a real organization will not conform to the requirements of a parametric analysis. That is, a practitioner would not be able to analyze the data with a t-test or F-test (ANOVA). Presume that a young professional came to you and said he or she had read about tests—such as the Chi-Square, the Mann-Whitney U test, the Wilcoxon Signed-Rank test, and Kruskal-Wallis one-way analysis of variance—and wanted to know when you would use each and why each would be used instead of the t-tests and ANOVA.


Parametric statistics is inferential and based on random sampling from a well-defined population, and that the sample data is making strict inferences about the population’s parameters. Thus tests like t-tests, chi-square, f-tests (ANOVA) can be used (Huck, 2011; Schumacker, 2014).  Nonparametric statistics, “assumption-free tests”, is used for tests that are using ranked data like Mann-Whitney U-test, Wilcoxon Signed-Rank test, Kruskal-Wallis H-test, and chi-square (Field, 2013; Huck, 2011).

First, there is a need to define the types of data.  Continuous data is interval/ratio data, and categorical data is nominal/ordinal data.  Modified from Schumacker (2014) with data added from Huck (2011):

Statistic Dependent Variable Independent Variable
Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)
     One way Continuous Categorical
     Single Sample Continuous
     Independent groups Continuous Categorical
     Dependent (paired groups) Continuous Categorical
Chi-square Categorical Categorical
Mann-Whitney U-test Ordinal Ordinal
Wilcoxon Ordinal Ordinal
Kruskal-Wallis H-test Ordinal Ordinal

ANOVAs (or F-tests) are used to analyze the differences in a group of three or more means, through studying the variation between the groups, and tests the null hypothesis to see if the means between the groups are equal (Huck, 2011). Student t-tests, or t-tests, test as a null hypothesis that the mean of a population has some specified number and is used when the sample size is relatively small compared to the population size (Field, 2013; Huck, 2011; Schumacker, 2014).  The test assumes a normal distribution (Huck, 2011). With large sample sizes, t-test/values are the same as z-tests/values, the same can happen with chi-square, as t and chi-square are distributions with samples size in their function (Schumacker, 2014).  In other words, at large sample sizes the t-distribution and chi-square distribution begin to look like a normal curve.  Chi-square is related to the variance of a sample, and the chi-square tests are used for testing the null hypothesis, which is the sample mean is part of a normal distribution (Schumacker, 2014).  Chi-square tests are so versatile it can be used as a parametric and non-parametric test (Field, 2013; Huck, 2011; Schumacker, 2014).

The Mann-Whiteney U-test and Wilcox signed-rank test are both equivalent, since they are the non-parametric equivalent of the t-tests and the samples don’t even have to be of the same sample length (Field, 2013).

The nonparametric Mann-Whitney U-test can be substituted for a t-test when the normal distribution cannot be assumed and was designed for two independent samples that do not have repeated measures (Field, 2013; Huck, 2011). Thus, this makes this a great substitution for the independent group’s t-test (Field, 2013). A benefit of choosing the Mann-Whitney U test is that it probably will not produce type II error-false negative (Huck, 2011). The null hypothesis is that the two independent samples come from the same population (Field, 2013; Huck, 2011).

The nonparametric Wilcoxon signed-rank test is best for distributions that are skewed, where variance homogeneity cannot be assumed, and a normal distribution cannot be assumed (Field, 2013; Huck, 2011).  Wilcoxon signed test can help compare two related/correlated samples from the same population (Huck, 2011). Each pair of data is chosen randomly and independently and not repeating between the pairs (Huck, 2011).  This is a great substitution for the dependent t-tests (Field, 2013; Huck, 2011).  The null hypothesis is that the central tendency is 0 (Huck, 2011).

The nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis H-test can be used to compare two or more independent samples from the same distribution, which is considered to be like a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and focuses on central tendencies (Huck, 2011).  It is usually an extension of the Mann-Whitney U-test (Huck, 2011). The null hypothesis is that the medians in all groups are equal (Huck, 2011).


  • Field, A. (2013) Discovering Statistics Using IBM SPSS Statistics (4th ed.). UK: Sage Publications Ltd. VitalBook file.
  • Huck, S. W. (2011) Reading Statistics and Research (6th ed.). Pearson Learning Solutions. VitalBook file.
  • Schumacker, R. E. (2014) Learning statistics using R. California, SAGE Publications, Inc, VitalBook file.

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