I am working on a linear regression model.

  • The complete model with 11 variables in total has a quite low adjusted R-squared ($R^2_{adj.}$) of 0.11.

  • 4 variables have a significant influence on the DV.

  • Alternative model: using stepwise model selection based on the AIC, a model with 7 variables turns out to have the best AIC. Further, $R^2_{adj.}$ improved comparatively much and equals 0.16 in the alternative model.

  • in the alternative model, the same 4 variables have an influence on the DV and a further, prior non-significant variable turns to a significant one.

This finding is somewhat not intuitive. Based on what I know so far about the $R^2_{adj.}$ measure is that it is a measure which indicates how much of variance is explained by the model.
It usually increases when adding more variables as it is likely that more variables explain more variance.

Conceptually, the complete model is theory deduced.

Does anyone have an idea, why the $R^2_{adj.}$ increases when removing variables?

After hours of research, I still did not find an appropriate explanation for this result.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Are you looking at the $R^2$ or adjusted $R^2$? $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2021 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ I am looking at the adjusted R2. the not adjusted R2 remains almost constant for both models (0.26 for the complete model and 0.25 for the alternative model) $\endgroup$
    – urmelf
    Jul 23, 2021 at 10:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So the actual $R^2$ does increase with the extra variable, in line with your intuition, but not by enough to offset the impact of the adjustment for the number of variables. This is not unusual. $\endgroup$
    – Henry
    Jul 23, 2021 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Henry, thank you for your answer. So should I rather use the alternative model? $\endgroup$
    – urmelf
    Jul 23, 2021 at 10:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See also "Justification for and optimality of $R^2_{adj.}$ as a model selection criterion". $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2021 at 14:25

2 Answers 2


You are using $R^{2}_{adj}$ incorrectly. It is intended to debias $R^2$ for a single pre-specified model. When used in the context of multiple models the degrees of freedom that needs to be inserted into the formula is the maximum number of parameters entertained across models. Then your problem also vanishes.


It is the $R^2$ which indicates how much of variance is explained by the model. You confuse $R^2$ and $R^2_{adj}$, you should read this to fully understand the difference between both of them : https://www.statisticshowto.com/probability-and-statistics/statistics-definitions/adjusted-r2/

$R^2_{adj}$ can be use as a criterion for step-wise method, such as AIC or BIC : it penalizes the adding of variables.


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