What is the difference between a population and a sample?

When we think of the term “population,” we usually think of people in our town, region, state or country and their respective characteristics such as gender, age, marital status, ethnic membership, religion and so forth. In statistics the term “population” takes on a slightly different meaning. The “population” in statistics includes all members of a defined group that we are studying or collecting information on for data driven decisions.

A part of the population is called a sample. It is a proportion of the population, a slice of it, a part of it and all its characteristics. A sample is a scientifically drawn group that actually possesses the same characteristics as the population – if it is drawn randomly.(This may be hard for you to believe, but it is true!)

Randomly drawn samples must have two characteristics:

*Every person has an equal opportunity to be selected for your sample; and,

*Selection of one person is independent of the selection of another person.

What is great about random samples is that you can generalize to the population that you are interested in. So if you sample 500 households in your community, you can generalize to the 50,000 households that live there. If you match some of the demographic characteristics of the 500 with the 50,000, you will see that they are surprisingly similar.

Return from the difference between a population and a sample to samples and size.