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Loglinear Models

Brief History

Until the late 1960’s,
contingency tables - two-way tables formed by cross classifying categorical variables -
were typically analyzed by calculating chi-square values testing the hypothesis of
independence. When tables consisted of more
than two variables, researchers would compute the chi-squares for two-way tables and then
again for multiple sub-tables formed from them in order to determine if associations
and/or interactions were taking place among the variables. In the 1970’s the analysis
of cross-classified data changed quite dramatically with the publication of a series of
papers on loglinear models by L.A. Goodman. Many
other books appeared around that time building on Goodman’s work (Bishop, Finberg
& Holland 1975; Haberman 1975). Now
researchers were introduced to a wide variety of models that could be fitted to
cross-classified data. Thus, the introduction
of the loglinear model provided them with a formal and rigorous method for selecting a
model or models for describing associations between variables.


When to use loglinear models:

The loglinear model is one of the
specialized cases of generalized
linear models
for Poisson-distributed data. Loglinear analysis is an extension of the
two-way contingency table where the conditional relationship between two or more discrete,
categorical variables is analyzed by taking the natural logarithm of the cell frequencies
within a contingency table. Although loglinear models can be used to analyze the
relationship between two categorical variables (two-way contingency tables), they are more
commonly used to evaluate multiway contingency tables that involve three or more
variables. The variables investigated by log linear models are all treated as
“response variables”. In other words, no distinction is made between independent
and dependent variables. Therefore, loglinear models only demonstrate association between
variables. If one or more variables are
treated as explicitly dependent and others as independent, then logit or logistic
should be used instead. Also,
if the variables being investigated are continuous and cannot be broken down into discrete
categories, logit or logistic regression would again be the appropriate analysis. For a complete discussion on logit and logistic
regression consult Agresti (1996) or Tabachnick and Fidell (1996).

Example of data appropriate
for loglinear models:

Suppose we are interested in the
relationship between sex, heart disease and body weight.
We could take a sample of 200 subjects and determine the sex, approximate body
weight, and who does and does not have heart disease. The continuous variable, body
weight, is broken down into two discrete categories: not over weight, and over weight. The
contingency table containing the data may look like this:

Heart Disease


Body Weight




Not over weight













Over weight













In this example, if we had
designated heart disease as the dependent variable and sex and body weight as the
independent variables, then logit or logistic regression would have been the appropriate

Basic Strategy and Key

The basic strategy in loglinear
modeling involves fitting models to the observed frequencies in the cross-tabulation of
categoric variables. The models can then be
represented by a set of expected frequencies that may or may not resemble the observed
frequencies. Models will vary in terms of
the marginals they fit, and can be described in terms of the constraints they place on the
associations or interactions that are present in the data. The pattern of association
among variables can be described by a set of odds and by one or more odds ratios derived
from them. Once expected frequencies are
obtained, we then compare models that are hierarchical to one another and choose a
preferred model, which is the most parsimonious model that fits the data. It’s important to note that a model is not
chosen if it bears no resemblance to the observed data.
The choice of a preferred model is typically based on a formal comparison of
goodness-of-fit statistics associated with models that are related hierarchically (models
containing higher order terms also implicitly include all lower order terms). Ultimately, the preferred model should
distinguish between the pattern of the variables in the data and sampling variability,
thus providing a defensible interpretation.

The Loglinear Model

The following model refers to the
traditional chi-square test where two variables, each with two levels (2 x 2 table), are
evaluated to see if an association exists between the variables.

m + liA + ljB + lijAB

Ln(Fij) = is the log of the expected
cell frequency of the cases for cell ij in the

contingency table.

m = is the overall mean of the natural log of the
expected frequencies

l = terms each
represent “effects” which the variables have on the cell frequencies

A and B = the variables

i and j = refer to the categories
within the variables


= the main effect for variable A

= the main effect for variable B

= the interaction effect for variables A and B

The above model is considered a Saturated
because it includes all possible one-way and two-way effects. Given that the saturated model has the same amount
of cells in the contingency table as it does effects, the expected cell frequencies will
always exactly match the observed frequencies, with no degrees of freedom remaining (Knoke
and Burke, 1980). For example, in a 2 x 2
table there are four cells and in a saturated model involving two variables there are four
effects, m, liA,
, therefore the expected cell frequencies will exactly match the observed frequencies. Thus, in order to find a more parsimonious model
that will isolate the effects best demonstrating the data patterns, a non-saturated model
must be sought. This can be achieved by
setting some of the effect parameters to zero. For
instance, if we set the effects parameter lijAB
to zero (i.e. we assume that variable A has no effect on variable B, or vice versa) we are
left with the unsaturated model.

m + liA + ljB

This particular unsaturated model
is titled the Independence Model because it lacks an interaction effect parameter
between A and B. Implicitly, this model holds
that the variables are unassociated. Note
that the independence model is analogous to the chi-square analysis, testing the
hypothesis of independence.

Hierarchical Approach to Loglinear

The following equation represents
a 2 x 2 x 2 multiway contingency table with three variables, each with two levels –
exactly like the table illustrated on page 1 of this article. Here, this equation is being used to illustrate
the hierarchical approach to loglinear modeling.

m + liA + ljB + lkC + lijAB + likAC + ljkBC + lijkABC

A hierarchy of models exists
whenever a complex multivariate relationship present in the data necessitates inclusion of
less complex interrelationships (Knoke and Burke, 1980).

For example, in the above
equation if a three-way interaction is present (ABC), the equation for the model must also
include all two-way effects (AB, AC, BC) as well as the single variable effects (A, B, C)
and the grand mean (m).
In other words, less
complex models are nested within the higher-order model (ABC). Note the shorter notation used here to describe models. Each set of letters within the braces indicates a
highest order effect parameter included in the model and by virtue of the hierarchical
requirement, the set of letters within braces also reveals all lower order relationships
which are necessarily present (Knoke and Burke, 1980).

SPSS uses this model to generate
the most parsimonious model; however, some programs use a non-hierarchical approach to
loglinear modeling. Reverting back to the
previous notation, a non-hierarchical model would look like the following: Ln(Fij)
= m + liA
+ lijAB. Notice that the main effect term liB
is not included in the model therefore violating the hierarchical requirement. The use of non-hierarchical modeling is not
recommended, because it provides no statistical procedure for choosing from among
potential models.

Choosing a model to Investigate

Typically, either theory or
previous empirical findings should guide this process.
However, if an a priori hypothesis does not exist, there are two approaches that
one could take:

1. Start
with the saturated model and begin to delete higher order interaction terms until the fit
of the model to the data becomes unacceptable based on the probability standards adopted
by the investigator.

2. Start
with the simplest model (independence model) and add more complex interaction terms until
an acceptable fit is obtained which cannot be significantly improved by adding further

Fitting Loglinear Models

Once a model has been chosen for
investigation the expected frequencies need to be tabulated. For two variable models, the following formula can
be used to compute the direct estimates for non-saturated models.

total) * (row total)/grand total

For larger tables, an iterative
proportional fitting algorithm (Deming-Stephan algorithm) is used to generate expected
frequencies. This procedure uses marginal
tables fitted by the model to insure that the expected frequencies sum across the other
variables to equal the corresponding observed marginal tables (Knoke and Burke, 1980).

For Example: In the following
contingency tables, the observed marginal table totals (each column and row) are equal to
the expected marginal table totals, even though the actual expected frequencies are
different from the observed frequencies.

Observed Frequencies

Expected Frequencies






One or More



Vote Turnout


One or More











Not Voted




Not Voted










(Note: The above contingency
tables were taken from Knoke and Burke, 1980 and represent data collected on voluntary
membership association and voter turnout in the 1972 and 1976 Presidential elections in
the United States.)

The iterative proportional
fitting process generates maximum likelihood estimates of the expected cell frequencies
for a hierarchical model. In short,
preliminary estimates of the expected cell frequencies are successfully adjusted to fit
each of the marginal sub-tables specified in the model.
For example, in the model AB, BC, ABC, the initial estimates are adjusted to fit AB
then BC and finally to equal the ABC observed frequencies.
The previous adjustments become distorted with each new fit, so the process starts
over again with the most recent cell estimate. This
process continues until an arbitrarily small difference exists between the current and
previous estimates. Consult Christensen (1997) for a numerical explanation of the
iterative computation of estimates.

Parameter Estimates

Once estimates of the expected
frequencies for the given model are obtained, these numbers are entered into appropriate
formulas to produce the effect parameter estimates (l’s) for the
variables and their interactions (Knoke and Burke, 1980).
The effect parameter estimates are related to odds and odds ratios. Odds are described as the ratio between the
frequency of being in one category and the frequency of not being in that category. For example, in the above contingency table for
observed frequencies, the odds that a person voted is 987/486 = 2.03. The odds ratio is one conditional odds divided by
another for a second variable, such as the odds of having voted for the second variable
Membership. Based on the same contingency
table, the conditional odds for having voted and belonging to one or more groups is 2.97
(689/232), and the conditional odds for having voted and not belonging to any groups is
1.17 (289/254). Then the odds ratio for
voting for people belonging to more than one group to belonging to none is 2.97/1.17 =
2.54. This is also called the
“cross-product ratio” and in a 2x2 table can be computed by dividing the product
of the main diagonal cells (689*254) by the product of the off diagonal cells (232*298). An odds ratio above 1 indicates a positive
association among variables, while odds ratios smaller than one indicate a negative
association. Odds ratios equaling 1
demonstrate that the variables have no association (Knoke and Burke, 1980). Note that odds and odds ratios are highly
dependent on a particular model. Thus, the
associations illustrated by evaluating the odds ratios of a given model are informative
only to the extent that the model fits well.

Testing for Fit

Once the model has been fitted,
it is necessary to decide which model provides the best fit. The overall goodness-of-fit of a model is assessed
by comparing the expected frequencies to the observed cell frequencies for each model. The Pearson Chi-square statistic or the likelihood
ratio (L2) can be used to test a models fit. However, the (L2) is
more commonly used because it is the statistic that is minimized in maximum likelihood
estimation and can be partitioned uniquely for more powerful test of conditional
independence in multiway tables (Knoke and Burke, 1980).
The formula for the L2 statistic is as follows:

= 2

L2 follows a
chi-square distribution with the degrees of freedom (df) equal to the number of lambda
terms set equal to zero. Therefore, the L2
statistic tests the residual frequency that is not accounted for by the effects in the
model (the l parameters
set equal to zero). The larger the L2 relative to the available degrees of
freedom, the more the expected frequencies depart from the actual cell entries. Therefore, the larger L2 values
indicate that the model does not fit the data well and thus, the model should be rejected.
Consult Tabachnick and Fidell (1996) for a full explanation on how to compute the L2 statistic.

It is often found that more than
one model provides an adequate fit to the data as indicated by the non-significance of the
likelihood ratio. At this point, the
likelihood ratio can be used to compare an overall model within a smaller, nested model
(i.e. comparing a saturated model with one interaction or main effect dropped to assess
the importance of that term). The equation is
as follows:

= L2model1 – L2model2

Model 1 is the model nested
within model 2. The degrees of freedom (df)
are calculated by subtracting the df of model 2 from the df of model 1.

If the L2 comparison
statistic is not significant, then the nested model (1) is not significantly worse than
the saturated model (2). Therefore, choose
the more parsimonious (nested) model.

Following is a table that is
often created to aid in the comparison of models. Based
on the above equation, if we wanted to compare model 1 with model 11 then we would compute
L2 comparison = 66.78 – 0.00 which yields a L2 comparison of
66.78. The df would be computed by
subtracting 0 from 1 yielding a df of 1. The
L2 comparison figure is significant, therefore we cannot eliminate the
interaction effect term VM from the model. Thus,
the best fitting model in this case is the saturated model.

Comparisons Among Models

Effect Parameters

Likelihood Ratio


Fitted Marginals













































{ }








* Set to 1.00 by hypothesis (Note:
Table is taken from Knoke and Burke, 1980)

Loglinear Residuals

In order to further investigate
the quality of fit of a model, one could evaluate the individual cell residuals. Residual frequencies can show why a model fits
poorly or can point out the cells that display a lack of fit in a generally good-fitting
model (Tabachnick and Fidell, 1996). The
process involves standardizing the residuals for each cell by dividing the difference
between frequencies observed and frequencies expected by the square root of the
frequencies expected (Fobs – Fexp /Ö Fexp). The cells with the largest residuals show where
the model is least appropriate. Therefore, if
the model is appropriate for the data, the residual frequencies should consist of both
negative and positive values of approximately the same magnitude that are distributed
evenly across the cells of the table.

Limitations to Loglinear Models


The inclusion of so many
variables in loglinear models often makes interpretation very difficult.


Only a between subjects design
may be analyzed. The frequency in each cell
is independent of frequencies in all other cells.

Adequate Sample Size

With loglinear models, you need
to have at least 5 times the number of cases as cells in your data. For example, if you have a 2x2x3 table, then you
need to have 60 cases. If you do not have the
required amount of cases, then you need to increase the sample size or eliminate one or
more of the variables.

Size of Expected Frequencies

For all two-way associations, the
expected cell frequencies should be greater than one, and no more than 20% should be less
than five. Upon failing to meet this
requirement, the Type I error rate usually does not increase, but the power can be reduced
to the point where analysis of the data is worthless.
If low expected frequencies are encountered, the following could be done:

1. Accept
the reduced power for testing effects associated with low expected frequencies.

2. Collapse
categories for variables with more than two levels, meaning you could combine two
categories to make one “new” variable. However,
if you do this, associations between the variables can be lost, resulting in a complete
reduction in power for testing those associations. Therefore,
nothing has been gained.

3. Delete
variables to reduce the number of cells, but in doing so you must be careful not to delete
variables that are associated with any other variables.

4. Add a
constant to each cell (.5 is typical). This
is not recommended because power will drop, and Type I error rate only improves minimally.

Note: Some packages such as SPSS will
add .5 continuity correction under default.


A.1996. An Introduction to Categorical Data Analysis.
John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York, New York, USA. *

R. 1997. Log-Linear Models and Logistic Regression.
Springer-Verlag Inc. New York, New York, USA.

B.S. 1977. The Analysis of Contingency Tables. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York, New York, USA.

Knoke, D. and
P.J. Burke 1980. Log-Linear Models. Sage
Publications, Inc. Newberry Park, California, USA. *

Read, T.R.C.
and N.A.C. Cressie. 1988. Goodness-of-Fit Statistics
for Discrete Multivariate Data
. Springer-Verlag Inc. New York, New York, USA.

B.G. and L.S. Fidell 1996. Using Multivariate
. 3rd Edition. Harper Collins. New York, New York, USA.

* References
that were the most informative

References on the Internet

http://asio.jde.aca.mmu.ac.uk/new_gis/analysis/loglin.htm - A brief tutorial on log-linear models.

http://www.statsoftinc.com/textbook/stloglin.html - A
tutorial on log linear analysis of frequency tables.

http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Courses/grcat/grc8.html - A
brief discussion on log linear models and how to use the statistical software, SAS, for
log linear modeling.

http://wizard.ucr.edu/~rhannema/soc203a/loglin.html - A
comprehensive article on hierarchical log-linear models.

- A brief tutorial on log-linear, logit and probit models. This article provides a good glossary of terms
that apply to all three analyses.

Articles that use Log Linear

P.E., Collins, J.P. 1996. Effects if Individual Variation in Size on Growth
and Development of Larval Salamanders. Ecology,
77, 1483-1492.

Cords, M. 1986. Interspecific
and Intraspecific Variation in Diet of Two Forest Guenons, Cercopithecus ascanius and C.
mitis. Journal of Animal Ecology, 55,

Quesada, M.,
Bollman, K., and Stephenson, A.G. 1995. Leaf Damage Decreases Pollen Production and
Hinders Pollen Performance in Cucurbita texana. Ecology,
76, 437-443.

T.S., and Siegel-Causey, D. 1981. Species Interactions and Community Structure in
Alaskan Seabird Colonies. Ecology, 62,


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