I'm studying confidence intervals, and I'm curious about how one might generate a confidence interval for the confidence interval, if that even makes sense.

For example, let's say I draw simple random samples of n=100 from some population, calculate sample means and standard deviations, and construct 95% confidence intervals. I repeat this procedure 100 times. I know I expect about 95 of these intervals to capture the population mean, and about 5 of them not to. However, can I construct a confidence interval around this expectation? If I were to repeat this entire "100 samples of 100 samples" over and over again, what can I say about the distribution of how often the intervals captures?

Essentially, could I construct a confidence interval for the confidence interval? Would that even make any sense?


  • $\begingroup$ In that situation, wouldn't you take the average of all confidence intervals to improve your estimate? As a theoretical answer to your question, you can always create a confidence interval as long as you can (1) make an assumption about the underlying distribution, (2) have a mean, (3) have a variance, (4) have a confidence level. $\endgroup$
    – Jean-Paul
    Feb 7, 2016 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ and it's turtles all the way down $\endgroup$
    – rep_ho
    Feb 7, 2016 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ I think what you essentially want to do is form a confidence interval for the coverage probability. The coverage probab9ility is the probability that any one confidence interval contains the population mean. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ (continued) Presuming you have M i.i.d replications of forming confidence intervals based on n = 100 sample size, you can form the confidence interval for coverage probability based on binomial fraction of intervals containing the population mean. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2016 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ Mark, that makes a ton of sense, and I think it's similar to Glen's answer below. Right? $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2016 at 20:23

1 Answer 1


what can I say about the distribution of how often the intervals captures?

Treating each interval containing the parameter as a Bernoulli process with each trial having some coverage probability $p$, the number of "coverages" should be $\text{Binomial}(n,p)$.

The potential problem is whether the $p$ one actually has is really the $p$ one was hoping for (whether due to the extent of the failure of assumptions or because of approximations involved in obtaining the intervals).

  • $\begingroup$ That makes sense. Would I be justified in using something like this? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binomial_proportion_confidence_interval (looks like I can't line break in comments, which is a little awkward). $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2016 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ Which, if I wanted a 95% CI, would be 0.95 +/- 1.96 * sqrt(0.95 * 0.05 / 100) => 0.95 +/- 0.0427, which essential means about 90.5-100% of the time. Interesting! $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2016 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Guy I wouldn't use the normal approximation for that; with 100 intervals, even if all the assumptions held, the expected number outside is a small count (binomial but well approximated by a Poisson(5) ... so pretty discrete)... $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Feb 9, 2016 at 23:19

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