The Wilcoxon signed rank test for paired comparisons of clustered data

Biometrics. 2006 Mar;62(1):185-92. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0420.2005.00389.x.


The Wilcoxon signed rank test is a frequently used nonparametric test for paired data (e.g., consisting of pre- and posttreatment measurements) based on independent units of analysis. This test cannot be used for paired comparisons arising from clustered data (e.g., if paired comparisons are available for each of two eyes of an individual). To incorporate clustering, a generalization of the randomization test formulation for the signed rank test is proposed, where the unit of randomization is at the cluster level (e.g., person), while the individual paired units of analysis are at the subunit within cluster level (e.g., eye within person). An adjusted variance estimate of the signed rank test statistic is then derived, which can be used for either balanced (same number of subunits per cluster) or unbalanced (different number of subunits per cluster) data, with an exchangeable correlation structure, with or without tied values. The resulting test statistic is shown to be asymptotically normal as the number of clusters becomes large, if the cluster size is bounded. Simulation studies are performed based on simulating correlated ranked data from a signed log-normal distribution. These studies indicate appropriate type I error for data sets with > or =20 clusters and a superior power profile compared with either the ordinary signed rank test based on the average cluster difference score or the multivariate signed rank test of Puri and Sen. Finally, the methods are illustrated with two data sets, (i) an ophthalmologic data set involving a comparison of electroretinogram (ERG) data in retinitis pigmentosa (RP) patients before and after undergoing an experimental surgical procedure, and (ii) a nutritional data set based on a randomized prospective study of nutritional supplements in RP patients where vitamin E intake outside of study capsules is compared before and after randomization to monitor compliance with nutritional protocols.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Matched-Pair Analysis*
  • Nutritional Status / drug effects
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa / surgery
  • Statistics, Nonparametric*
  • Therapeutics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use


  • Vitamin E