Statistical Sampling and Regression:Convariance and Correlation
Covariance and correlation describe how two variables are
Variables are positively related if they move in the same
Variables are inversely related if they move in opposite
Both covariance and correlation indicate whether variables are
positively or inversely related. Correlation also tells you the
degree to which the variables tend to move together.
You are probably already familiar with statements about
covariance and correlation that appear in the news almost daily. For
example, you might hear that as economic growth increases, stock
market returns tend to increase as well. These variables are said to
be positively related because they move in the same direction. You
may also hear that as world oil production increases, gasoline prices
fall. These variables are said to be negatively, or inversely,
related because they move in opposite directions.
The relationship between two variables can be illustrated in a
graph. In the examples below, the graph on the left illustrates how
the positive relationship between economic growth and market returns
might appear. The graph indicates that as economic growth increases,
stock market returns also increase. The graph on the right is an
example of how the inverse relationship between oil production and
gasoline prices might appear. It illustrates that as oil production
increases, gas prices fall.
To determine the actual relationships of these variables, you
would use the formulas for covariance and correlation.
Covariance indicates how two variables are related. A positive
covariance means the variables are positively related, while a
negative covariance means the variables are inversely related.
The formula for calculating covariance of sample data is shown
x = the independent variable y = the dependent variable n = number of data points in the sample
= the mean of the
independent variable x
= the mean of the
dependent variable y
To understand how covariance is used, consider the table below,
which describes the rate of economic growth (xi)
and the rate of return on the S&P 500
Using the covariance formula, you can determine whether economic
growth and S&P 500 returns have a positive or
inverse relationship. Before you compute the covariance, calculate the mean of x and y. (The Summary
Measures topic of the Discrete Probability Distributions section
explains the mean formula in detail.)
Now you can identify the variables for the covariance formula as
x = 2.1, 2.5, 4.0, and 3.6 (economic growth) y = 8, 12, 14, and 10 (S&P 500 returns)
Substitute these values into the covariance formula to determine
the relationship between economic growth and S&P 500
The covariance between the returns of the S&P
500 and economic growth is 1.53. Since the covariance is positive,
the variables are positively related—they move
together in the same direction.
Correlation is another way to determine how two variables are
related. In addition to telling you whether variables are positively
or inversely related, correlation also tells you the degree to which
the variables tend to move together.
As stated above, covariance measures variables that have different
units of measurement. Using covariance, you could determine whether
units were increasing or decreasing, but it was impossible to measure
the degree to which the variables moved together because covariance
does not use one standard unit of measurement. To measure the degree to
which variables move together, you must use correlation.
Correlation standardizes the measure of interdependence between
two variables and, consequently, tells you how closely the two
variables move. The correlation measurement, called a correlation
coefficient, will always take on a value between 1 and – 1:
If the correlation coefficient is one, the variables
have a perfect positive correlation. This means that if one variable
moves a given amount, the second moves proportionally in the same
direction. A positive correlation coefficient less than one indicates a
less than perfect positive correlation, with the strength of the
correlation growing as the number approaches one.
If correlation coefficient is zero, no relationship
exists between the variables. If one variable moves, you can make no
predictions about the movement of the other variable; they are
If correlation coefficient is –1, the variables are
perfectly negatively correlated (or inversely correlated) and move in
opposition to each other. If one variable increases, the other
variable decreases proportionally. A negative correlation coefficient
greater than –1 indicates a less than perfect negative correlation,
with the strength of the correlation growing as the number approaches
Test your understanding of how correlations might look graphically.
In the box below, choose one of the three sets of purple points and
drag it to the correlation coefficient it illustrates: 1, –1, or 0. If
your choice is correct, an explanation of the correlation will appear.
Remember to close the Instructions box before you begin.
This interactive tool illustrates the theoretical extremes of the
idea of correlation coefficients between two variables: 1, –1, or 0.
These figures serve only to provide an idea of the boundaries on
correlations. In practice, most variables will not be perfectly
correlated, but they will instead take on a fractional correlation
coefficient between 1 and –1.
To calculate the correlation coefficient for two variables, you
would use the correlation formula, shown below.
r(x,y) = correlation of the variables
x and y COV(x, y) = covariance of the variables x
and y sx = sample standard deviation of the random
variable x sy = sample standard deviation of the random
Earlier in this discussion, you saw how the covariance of S&P 500 returns and economic growth was calculated using
data from the following table. Now consider how their correlation is
To calculate correlation, you must know the covariance for the
two variables and the standard deviations of each variable. From the
earlier example, you know that the covariance of S&P
500 returns and economic growth was calculated to be 1.53. Now you
need to determine the standard deviation of each of the variables.
You would calculate the standard deviation of the S&P 500 returns and the economic growth from the above
example as follows. (For a more detailed explanation of calculating
standard deviation, refer to the Summary Measures topic of the
Discrete Probability Distributions section of the course.)
Using the information from above, you know that
COV(x,y) = 1.53 sx = 0.90 sy = 2.58
Now you can calculate the correlation coefficient by substituting
the numbers above into the correlation formula, as shown below.
A correlation coefficient of .66 tells you two important
Because the correlation coefficient is a positive number,
returns on the S&P 500 and economic growth are
Because .66 is relatively far from indicating no correlation,
the strength of the correlation between returns on the S&P 500 and economic growth is strong.
Both covariance and correlation identified that the variables are
positively related. By standardizing measures, correlation is also
able to measure the degree to which the variables tend to move
In business, covariance and correlation are used frequently to
analyze market returns for anything from an individual stock to a
market composite. In addition, marketing executives use covariance
and correlation to understand the interdependence between consumer
behavior and the consumption of their products.
1. If there is a positive relationship between the scores of job
incumbents on a job knowledge test and actual job performance, which
of the following graphs would most likely be an accurate
representation of this situation?