Predicting gender differences as latent variables: Summed scores, and individual item responses: A methods case study

Ricardo Pietrobon, Marcus Taylor, Ulrich Guller, Laurence D. Higgins, Danny O. Jacobs, Timothy Carey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Modeling latent variables such as physical disability is challenging since its measurement is performed through proxies. This poses significant methodological challenges. The objective of this article is to present three different methods to predict latent variables based on classical summed scores, individual item responses, and latent variable models. Methods: This is a review of the literature and data analysis using "layers of information". Data was collected from the North Carolina Back Pain Project, using a modified version of the Roland Questionnaire. Results: The three models are compared in relation to their goals and underlying concepts, previous clinical applications, data requirements, statistical theory, and practical applications. Initial linear regression models demonstrated a difference in disability between genders of 1.32 points (95% CI 0.65, 2.00) on a scale from 0-23. Subsequent item analysis found contradictory results across items, with no clear pattern. Finally, IRT models demonstrated three items were demonstrated to present differential item functioning. After these items were removed, the difference between genders was reduced to 0.78 points (95% CI, -0.99, 1.23). These results were shown to be robust with re-sampling methods. Conclusions: Purported differences in the levels of a latent variable should be tested using different models to verify whether these differences are real or simply distorted by model assumptions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalHealth and Quality of Life Outcomes
StatePublished - Oct 25 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Disability evaluation
  • Gender
  • Low-back pain
  • Outcome assessment
  • Psychometrics
  • Statistical models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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