Estimator (Statistics)

Understanding Estimators in Statistics

An estimator in statistics is a rule or a formula that helps us to estimate the value of an unknown parameter in a population using sample data. Estimators are fundamental to the field of inferential statistics, where we use information from a sample to make inferences about a larger population.

What is an Estimator?

An estimator is a function of the sample data that provides an estimate of a population parameter. For example, if we are interested in estimating the average height of all students in a university, we can use the mean height of a sample of students as an estimator of the population mean. The estimator itself is a random variable because it is a function of the random sample data. Its value varies from sample to sample due to the randomness inherent in the sampling process.

Properties of Good Estimators

For an estimator to be considered good, it should possess certain desirable properties:


An estimator is said to be unbiased if its expected value is equal to the true value of the parameter being estimated. In other words, on average, it hits the target parameter. An estimator that systematically overestimates or underestimates the parameter is considered biased.


A consistent estimator is one where the estimates become closer to the true parameter value as the sample size increases. Consistency ensures that by collecting more data, we can improve the accuracy of our estimate.


Efficiency refers to the variance of the estimator. Among all unbiased estimators, an efficient estimator has the smallest variance. An efficient estimator provides more precision and is less spread out around the true parameter value.


A sufficient estimator captures all the information in the sample that is needed to estimate the parameter. No other statistic calculated from the same sample can provide any additional information about the parameter.

Types of Estimators

There are various types of estimators used in statistics, and they are chosen based on the situation and the properties they possess. Some common types are:

Point Estimators

A point estimator provides a single value as the estimate of the parameter. For instance, the sample mean is a point estimator for the population mean.

Interval Estimators

An interval estimator, or an interval estimate, provides a range of values within which the parameter is expected to lie. Confidence intervals are a common example of interval estimation.

Methods of Estimation

There are several methods used to derive estimators, each with its own set of principles and criteria:

Method of Moments

The method of moments involves equating the population moments (like mean, variance) to the sample moments and solving these equations to estimate the parameters.

Maximum Likelihood Estimation (MLE)

MLE finds the parameter values that maximize the likelihood function, which measures how likely it is to observe the given sample data for different parameter values.

Least Squares Estimation

In least squares estimation, the parameters are estimated by minimizing the sum of squared differences between the observed values and the values predicted by the model.

Bayesian Estimation

Bayesian estimation incorporates prior knowledge or beliefs about the parameter in the form of a prior distribution, which is updated with sample information to obtain a posterior distribution of the parameter.

Estimator vs. Estimate

It is important to distinguish between an estimator and an estimate. An estimator is the rule or formula used to calculate an estimate, while the estimate is the actual value obtained from the sample data using the estimator. For example, the sample mean is an estimator, and the specific numerical value calculated from a particular sample is the estimate.

Challenges with Estimators

While estimators are powerful tools, they come with challenges. Selecting the appropriate estimator for a given situation requires careful consideration of the underlying assumptions, the sample size, and the properties of the estimators. Additionally, the presence of bias, outliers, or non-representative samples can affect the accuracy of the estimates.


Estimators play a crucial role in statistical analysis, allowing us to infer population parameters from sample data. Understanding the properties of estimators and the methods used to derive them is essential for making accurate and reliable inferences in statistics. By selecting appropriate estimators and understanding their limitations, statisticians and data scientists can draw meaningful conclusions from data and make informed decisions.

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