A novel nonparametric item response theory approach to measuring socioeconomic position: a comparison using household expenditure data from a Vietnam health survey, 2003
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Reidpath, D.D. and Ahmadi, K. (2014) ‘A novel nonparametric item response theory approach to measuring socioeconomic position: a comparison using household expenditure data from a Vietnam health survey, 2003’, Emerging Themes in Epidemiology, 11(1), p. 9. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/1742-7622-11-9.
Background Measures of household socio-economic position (SEP) are widely used in health research. There exist a number of approaches to their measurement, with Principal Components Analysis (PCA) applied to a basket of household assets being one of the most common. PCA, however, carries a number of assumptions about the distribution of the data which may be untenable, and alternative, non-parametric, approaches may be preferred. Mokken scale analysis is a non-parametric, item response theory approach to scale development which appears never to have been applied to household asset data. A Mokken scale can be used to rank order items (measures of wealth) as well as households. Using data on household asset ownership from a national sample of 4,154 consenting households in the World Health Survey from Vietnam, 2003, we construct two measures of household SEP. Seventeen items asking about assets, and utility and infrastructure use were used. Mokken Scaling and PCA were applied to the data. A single item measure of total household expenditure is used as a point of contrast. Results An 11 item scale, out of the 17 items, was identified that conformed to the assumptions of a Mokken Scale. All the items in the scale were identified as strong items (Hi > .5). Two PCA measures of SEP were developed as a point of contrast. One PCA measure was developed using all 17 available asset items, the other used the reduced set of 11 items identified in the Mokken scale analaysis. The Mokken Scale measure of SEP and the 17 item PCA measure had a very high correlation (r = .98), and they both correlated moderately with total household expenditure: r = .59 and r = .57 respectively. In contrast the 11 item PCA measure correlated moderately with the Mokken scale (r = .68), and weakly with the total household expenditure (r = .18). Conclusion The Mokken scale measure of household SEP performed at least as well as PCA, and outperformed the PCA measure developed with the 11 items used in the Mokken scale. Unlike PCA, Mokken scaling carries no assumptions about the underlying shape of the distribution of the data, and can be used simultaneous to order household SEP and items. The approach, however, has not been tested with data from other countries and remains an interesting, but under researched approach.