The fallacy of the ecological fallacy: the potential misuse of a concept and the consequences

Am J Public Health. 1994 May;84(5):819-24. doi: 10.2105/ajph.84.5.819.


Ecological studies have been evaluated in epidemiological contexts in terms of the "ecological fallacy." Although the empirical evidence for a lack of comparability between correlations derived from ecological- and individual-level analyses is compelling, the conceptual meaning of the ecological fallacy remains problematic. This paper argues that issues in cross-level inference can be usefully conceptualized as validity problems, problems not peculiar to ecological-level analyses. Such an approach increases the recognition of both potential inference problems in individual-level studies and the unique contributions of ecological variables. This, in turn, expands the terrain for the location of causes for disease and interventions to improve the public's health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ecology*
  • Epidemiologic Factors*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans