I am currently studying the textbook Introduction to Probability Models by Sheldon M. Ross. Chapter 4.4 Long-Run Proportions and Limiting Probabilities says the following:

Because $\pi_i$ is the long-run proportion of time that the chain is in state $i$, and $P^n_{i, j}$ is the long-run proportion of time when the Markov chain is in state $i$ that it will be in state $j$ after $n$ transition

$$\pi_i P^n_{i, j} = \text{long-run proportion of time the chain is in $i$ and will be in $j$ after $n$ transitions}$$

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But it seems to me that this is describing $\pi_i$ and $P^n_{i, j}$ identically? So what is the difference supposed to be?

I would greatly appreciate it if people would please take the time to clarify this.


2 Answers 2


If you have $K$ states there are $K$ numbers $\pi_i$ and (for each $n$) $K^2$ numbers $P_{i,j}^n$. The $\pi_i$ are long-term probabilities of being in state $i$ and the $P_{i,j}$ are long-term conditional probabilities of moving from state $j$ to state $i$

There's a close relationship between the sets of numbers: everything is the way it is because it got that way. If there's a stationary distribution and you pick $j$ from that stationary distribution, then $\pi_i=\sum_j P^n_{i,j}\pi_j$ for any $n$ because that's what it means to be a stationary distribution -- if you're in it, you stay in it.

If the chain has a unique stationary distribution and converges to it, then as $n\to\infty$, for any $j$, $P^n_{i,j}\to\pi_i$. Again, that's what it means: that you can start chains anywhere, and you they will eventually end up with close to the stationary distribution. That's what the theorem is saying. But there are assumptions; it's not just true by definition and it's not just two ways of saying the same thing

To see that the assumptions matter, suppose you had a chain with two subsets of states ('red' and 'blue') and it always moved to a state of a different colour at every transition. There would be no vector $\pi_i$ such that $P^n_{i,j}\to\pi_i$ for every $j$, because $P^n_{i,j}$ would always be zero for different-coloured states $(i,j)$ and even $n$, or for same-coloured states $(i,j)$ and odd $n$. That's why the theorem requires that $n$ is chosen to give $P^n_{i,j}>0$, and positive recurrence plus connectedness guarantees this is possible

Conversely, imagine a chain that always transitions to a state of the same colour. In that case, knowing that a red state $i$ is positive recurrent doesn't tell you that a blue state $j$ is positive recurrent because you can't get there from here. Again, the conditions of the theorem are needed for the result.


It is stated in the first sentence, but I agree that it is a bit confusing.

As I remember it, $\pi_{i}$ is the proportion of time that the Markov chain is in state $i$. For example, if $\pi_{i} = 0.5$ then the Markov chain is in state $i$ half of the time. In other words, if you look at the chain at random moments in time, you expect the chain to be in state $i$ in 50 percent of those instances.

$P^{n}$ is the $n$-th power of the transition matrix, which gives the probabilities after $n$ transitions. So $P_{i,j}^{n}$ is the probability that you start in state $i$ and after $n$ transitions are in state $j$.

  • $\begingroup$ Isn’t $\pi_i$ a vector? Or am I misunderstanding this? $\endgroup$ May 5, 2020 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ $\pi = (\pi_{i})_{i=1}^{N}$ where $N$ is the number of states is a vector containing all the long-run proportions of time that the chain is in a certain state. The proportion for state $i$ is denoted by $\pi_{i}$ and they sum up to 1, i.e. $\sum_{i=1}^{N} \pi_{i} = 1$. $\endgroup$
    – user585522
    May 5, 2020 at 17:29

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