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ecological fallacy

Definitions of Ecological Fallacy

  1. (noun) A mistake caused by assuming what is true for a group is true for the individual members of the group.
  2. (noun) In statistical analysis, an error caused by inferring aggregate data remains true on an individual level.

Example of Ecological Fallacy

  • Concluding that people who live in a high crime neighborhood are criminals.

Etymology of Ecological Fallacy

Ecological Fallacy Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: ec·o·log·i·cal fal·la·cy

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /ee-kuh-lAHj-i-kuhl fAl-uh-see/
  • British English – /ee-kuh-lOj-i-kuhl fAl-uh-see/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ikəˈlɑʤɪkəl ˈfæləsi/
  • British English – /ˌɛkəˈlɒʤɪkəl ˈfæləsi/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: ecological fallacies
  • In this instance, ecological refers to a group or system, something larger than an individual. An ecological study refers to research on groups and used to find connections between groups and their environment. Suicide: A Study in Sociology by Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) is a sociological example of an ecological study. Ecological studies are difficult to validate because of the effects of unknown confounding variables.
  • An ecological fallacy assumes what is true on the macrolevel is true on the microlevel.
  • An ecological fallacy occurs with aggregate data, a similar error, called Simpson’s paradox, occurs with categorical data.
  • To avoid an ecological fallacy, properly defining a unit of analysis is essential.
  • An ecological fallacy is the opposite of exception fallacy.
  • A type of deduction error.
  • Also called:
    • aggregation bias
    • aggregative fallacy
    • ecological bias
    • ecological inference
    • ecological inference fallacy
    • wrong level fallacy

Related Quotation

  • “Although you should be careful not to commit the ecological fallacy, don’t let these warnings lead you into committing what we might call the individualistic fallacy. Some people who approach social research for the first time have trouble reconciling general patterns of attitudes and actions with individual exceptions. But generalizations and probabilistic statements are not invalidated by such exceptions. Your knowing a rich Democrat, for example, doesn’t deny the fact that most rich people vote Republican—as a general pattern. Similarly, if you know someone who has gotten rich without any formal education, that doesn’t deny the general pattern of higher education relating to higher income” (Babbie 2011:108).

Related Video

Additional Information

Related Terms


Babbie, Earl R. 2011. The Basics of Social Research. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Works Consulted

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Ravelli, Bruce, and Michelle Webber. 2016. Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective. 3rd ed. Toronto: Pearson.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Cite the Definition of Ecological Fallacy

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “ecological fallacy.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved August 3, 2020 (https://sociologydictionary.org/ecological-fallacy/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

ecological fallacy. (2014). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/ecological-fallacy/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “ecological fallacy.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed August 3, 2020. https://sociologydictionary.org/ecological-fallacy/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“ecological fallacy.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2014. Web. 3 Aug. 2020. <https://sociologydictionary.org/ecological-fallacy/>.