Sociology Index


The things that researchers are comparing or examining are referred to as the units of analysis, or the units to be analyzed. Social research looks for patterns when comparing ‘things’ one to another. The most frequent unit of analysis is the individual, suggesting that researchers look for patterns among a collection (perhaps a sample) of individuals.

Research can also be conducted in which a pattern is sought among a collection of groups; the group would be the unit of analysis. For example, like Durkheim, one might try to determine what social factors are linked to the variation in suicide rates among nations or regions.

One can also look for patterns among things like newspaper stories, advertisements, a category of social interaction, social events, or speech utterances. In this case the unit of analysis would be what Earl Babbie has called social artifacts.

In Search of `the Appropriate' Unit of Analysis for Sociocultural Research
Eugene Matusov, University of Delaware, Culture & Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 3, 307-333 (2007)
The polysemic notion of `unit of analysis' has been developed by Gestalt psychologists and fruitfully used by Vygotsky in the struggle against reductionism in psychology. Currently, it has been appropriated by a sociocultural approach for criticizing cognitive approaches for using the `individual as unit of analysis'. In this article, I argue that a sociocultural approach is experiencing a crisis as it is being affected by holism—a tendency to include the universal whole in the studied phenomenon. I propose and discuss alternatives to reductionism and holism for a sociocultural approach.

The Couple Versus the Spouse as the Unit of Analysis in Marital Research. Revised.
Honeycutt, James M.; Norton, Robert W.- Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association (Boston, MA, May 2-5, 1982).
Abstract: A brief narrative description of the journal article, document, or resource.     Traditionally the unit of analysis in marital research has been the individual spouse. More recently the marital relationship has often been defined as a process of interaction and dynamic exchanges such that spouses have autonomous needs as well as corporate needs for interdependence. Thus modern systems theory heightens the importance of both individuals. A structural analysis of the marital dyad consists of two types in which the aim is to determine whether relationships found at the group level are the same or different from relationships within separate group components. The problem in the analysis is the treatment of the couple's score so that the couple's score is not merely a high/low spouse score in which sex effects are unaccounted for. Scores may te summed for the husband and wife and divided by two (summation score), or scores may be calculated to take into account the differences between each spouse's individual scores (dispersion scores). Using both these scores as the unit of analysis in a study of marital happiness and communicator images among 40 married couples, it is evident that the dispersion score can reveal an effect for the degree of a couple's agreement on marital happiness and not the level of happiness. In short, a reliance solely on individual or couples' analyses excluded some information. Therefore, the reporting of individual and couples' scores when a couple's analysis is used is often needed in order to give a full picture of the couple's agreement on the criterion variable and their rank on the criterion. However, in some situations depending on the exact research question, a summation score or dispersion score may solely be used.

City Markets as a Unit of Analysis in Audit Research and the Re-examination of Big 6 Market Shares - Jere R. Francis, Donald J. Stokes, Don Anderson, Abacus, Vol 35, No 2, 1999
Abstract: Big 6 audit market shares based on aggregate national data have been used in prior research to infer market leadership and industry expertise, and to differentiate Big 6 accounting firms from one another. In this study it is demonstrated that further differences exist with respect to city-specific audit markets, both between firms and within the same firm across different city markets. The specific finding is that the national market leader is not the city-specific market leader the vast majority of time. Usefulness of the city-level unit of analysis is further demonstrated by re-examining the 1989 mergers creating the accounting firms Ernst & Young and Deloitte Touche. The primary effect of the Ernst & Young merger was to increase audit market shares in cities in which the pre-merger firms already had significant market shares, resulting in an increase in the number of cities the merged firm achieved top ranking. In contrast the primary effect of the Deloitte Touche merger was an expansion of the number of city-level markets in which the merged firm had significant (though not leading) audit market shares. The findings of this study suggest that in order to move beyond our current understanding, important audit research questions such as the reason for particular auditor-client alignments, the competitive nature of markets, audit pricing of reputations, and auditor reporting and independence issues should be investigated in city-level markets where audit contracting occurs and where Big 6 market shares (and presumably reputations) vary widely from city to city.

Units of analysis in task-analytic research - T G Haring and C H Kennedy
Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara 93106.
J Appl Behav Anal. 1988 Summer; 21(2): 207–215. 1988.21-207. PMCID: PMC1286113
Abstract: We develop and discuss four criteria for evaluating the appropriateness of units of analysis for task-analytic research and suggest potential alternatives to the units of analysis currently used. Of the six solutions discussed, the most commonly used unit of analysis in current behavior analytic work, percentage correct, meets only one of the four criteria. Five alternative units of analysis are presented and evaluated.