What is a Decile?

A decile is a statistical term used to divide a set of ranked data into ten equal parts. It is a type of quantile, which is a generic term for parts of a probability distribution or dataset. Deciles are commonly used in the fields of statistics, finance, economics, and other areas that require data analysis. They provide a way to understand the distribution of a dataset by breaking it into smaller, more manageable segments.

How Deciles Work

In a given dataset, the first decile (D1) marks the point below which 10% of the data falls, the second decile (D2) marks the point below which 20% of the data falls, and so on, up to the ninth decile (D9) which marks the point below which 90% of the data falls. The highest decile effectively separates the highest 10% of the data from the rest.

To calculate deciles, one must first order the dataset from smallest to largest. Then, the data is divided into ten equal parts. There are several methods to determine the exact point of each decile, but a common approach is to use the formula:

Decile rank = (N + 1) * P

Where N is the number of data points in the dataset, and P is the percentage that defines the decile. For example, to find the first decile, P would be 0.1, for the second decile, P would be 0.2, and so on.

Uses of Deciles

Deciles are useful for a variety of purposes. In finance, they can be used to analyze the performance of investment portfolios by dividing the returns into deciles and examining the performance of each segment. This helps investors understand risk and return characteristics within their portfolio.

In economics, deciles can help to measure income distribution and wealth inequality. By dividing the population into deciles based on income, researchers can determine how wealth is distributed across a society and identify income inequality trends.

In education, deciles can be used to assess test scores and academic performance. For instance, students' scores can be divided into deciles to determine the range of scores and to identify the top and bottom performers.

Deciles and Percentiles

Deciles are closely related to percentiles, which divide data into 100 equal parts. Each decile is equivalent to 10 percentiles. For example, the first decile is the same as the 10th percentile, the fifth decile is the same as the 50th percentile (also known as the median), and the ninth decile is the same as the 90th percentile.

While percentiles provide a more granular view of the data distribution, deciles offer a broader overview, which can be useful when a less detailed analysis is sufficient or when the dataset is not large enough to warrant a percentile breakdown.

Limitations of Deciles

While deciles can be a powerful tool for data analysis, they also have limitations. One limitation is that they do not provide information about the shape of the data distribution between the deciles. For example, a dataset could be heavily skewed towards the lower or upper end, but this may not be apparent when only looking at deciles.

Another limitation is that deciles are sensitive to outliers. Extreme values can disproportionately affect the decile boundaries, especially in smaller datasets. This can lead to misleading interpretations of the data distribution.


Deciles are a fundamental concept in descriptive statistics that help analysts and researchers understand and interpret data distributions. By dividing data into ten equal parts, deciles provide a clear picture of the range and dispersion of data. They are widely used across various fields to analyze performance, distribution, and trends, offering a simple yet effective way to make sense of complex datasets.

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