I'm analyzing some data, which is sorted into some categories, and would like to compare my results to a hypothetical distribution of those categories. I feel like the chi-squared test for goodness of fit is what I am looking for, however, my categories are not mutually exclusive.

To offer an example:

Let's say I want to see if a certain population has a pronounced preference for a certain type of music. So I give my participants a list of 50 songs and ask them to pick their 15 favourite songs.

Each song fits within (say 5) given categories e.g. "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC counts as Rock, "Ride of the Valkyries" by Wagner is Classical, etc.

At the end we have a frequency table showing the total number of rock songs chosen, the total number of classical songs, etc.

Category Frequency
Rock 340
Classical 121
Country 206
Jazz 64
Folk 226

I would like to compare the results to the frequencies I would expect if their choices were pretty much random, to see if their is a distinct preference in the population.

Of course, the problem is that people can pick rock songs and classical songs and so the music genre categories are not mutually exclusive. I believe this means I cannot use the Chi-squared test, so I am unsure what approach to take.

So far I can only think of 2 options:

  1. Find the significance of each category separately using a one-proportion z-test
  2. Using some sort of bootstrap method where we compare the observed frequencies to a simulated distribution of a large number of randomly chosen songs.

Can anyone suggest an alternative?


  • Update 26/4/2018

Based on the comments I should mention that, in this example, there is an uneven number of songs in each category, with more rock songs than other types.

Another way of stating my research question would be: If the counts of rocks songs chosen the highest, is there a genuine preference for rock music in the population, or were more rock songs chosen because there were more rock songs to choose from.

  • Update 30/4/2018

I've been working at this an my current approach is to treat each musical genre separately and try to deal with them using simulations.

Essentially I have simulated 500 participants randomly choosing 15 songs from the list. I then count how many songs fall into each category. I repeat this process for 5000-10,000 iterations to build a sampling distribution for the frequency of each category.

If my observed count for a given genre falls towards the edges of the sampling distribution, say above the 95 percentile, I will take it as indicating a significant preference for that genre.

Could anyone offer some feedback as the whether this approach makes sense?

I was also hoping for a sanity check regarding the next question for this data, which involves comparing musical tastes in different populations.

Let's say I record the gender of each participant and I want to check if men and woman have different musical preferences. I believe that I can use a permutation test, i.e. randomly shuffling the gender labels and recounting the proportions for men and women to get a sampling distribution. Does that make sense?

  • $\begingroup$ Does each person have a score on each of the 5 dimensions? So I might score rock: 5, classical: 6, pop: 4, etc. And you want to see if these scores differ from each other? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ Were there an equal number of songs for each category? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Jeremy. I'm assuming there is not an equal number of songs for each category. Let's say there are 50 songs, 20 are rock, 10 classical, 10 folk, 6 country and 4 jazz. For 1000 participants, if there is no relationship I would expect rock songs to be chosen ~ 400 times. I would like to see if, in my sample population, this expectation is accurate or if there is a significant preference for rock songs (e.g. if 657 rock songs were chosen). $\endgroup$
    – aqshaw
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 23:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don't understand what's supposed to be not mutually exclusive in your example. Is it that a song can be categorised as both jazz & folk, for example? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 18:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hi Scortchi. The songs themselves can not be both jazz and folk, but each participant can choose both a jazz song and a folk song from the list. Therefore, in the crosstab, each participant can contribute to more than one cell. $\endgroup$
    – aqshaw
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 18:33

2 Answers 2


You say in a comment that

The songs themselves can not be both jazz and folk, but each participant can choose both a jazz song and a folk song from the list. Therefore, in the crosstab, each participant can contribute to more than one cell.

The real problem here is what you state in the second sentence above: each participant can contribute to more than one cell. The "problem" mentioned in the title non-exclusive categories is here a non-problem: Your categories are exclusive. So please update/correct your title and question! If your interest is in comparing musical preferences between men and women, you could present your data as a two-way contingency table, and the usual chisquared statistic would give useful description of the (lack of) homogeneity. The question is if it has the usual chisquared distribution. That could maybe be investigated using simulation, or you could try a permutation test, permuting the male/female labels( so the fifteen counts pertaining to the same person would be permuted together.)

Another approach is multinomial logistic regression. It would be very interesting if you could answer your own question now, comparing different approaches!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I cannot square your recommendations with the indication in the question that each selected song belongs to multiple categories. That would look like a strong form of dependence among the counts, precluding application of "the usual chisquared statistic." Have I misinterpreted the question? $\endgroup$
    – whuber
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 20:31

Because they are non-mutually exclusive, you are introducing pseudo-replication. I.e. each respondent's demographic data is replicated 15 times because they pick 15 different songs. Therefore, the analysis is invalid because you are artificially inflating the sample size. This violates 2 of the assumptions of the Chi-squared test:

"The levels (or categories) of the variables are mutually exclusive. That is, a particular subject fits into one and only one level of each of the variables."

"Each subject may contribute data to one and only one cell in the χ2. If, for example, the same subjects are tested over time such that the comparisons are of the same subjects at Time 1, Time 2, Time 3, etc., then χ2 may not be used."

(Quotes from the article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3900058/)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Categories are mutually exclusive as stated by kjetil b halvorsen and the reason is contained in the question of Scortchi $\endgroup$
    – rapaio
    Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ I think this may be a semantic issue. I would say that they are not mutually exclusive because one participant can fit into each category. A coin flip is mutually exclusive because there is only heads or tails - each coin flip (sample) can only be given one category. Here each respondent (sample) can be given multiple categories. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 23:01

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