Confidence Interval for a Population Proportion

Suppose we want to compute the proportion of subjects on anti-hypertensive medication in the Framingham Offspring Study and also wanted the 95% confidence interval for the estimated proportion.

The 95% confidence interval for a proportion is:

This formula is appropriate whenever there are at least 5 subjects with the outcome and at least 5 without the outcome. You should always use Z scores (not t-scores) to compute the confidence interval for a proportion. If the numbers are less than 5, there is a correction that can be used in R, which will be illustrated below.


In the Framingham Offspring study 1,219 subjects were on anti-hypertensive medication out of 3,532 total subjects. Therefore, the point estimate is computed as follows:

The 95% confidence interval is computed as follows:

Interpretation: We are 95% confident that the true proportion of patients on anti-hypertensives is between 33% and 36%.


Computing the 95% Confidence Interval for a Proportion Using R

 R makes it easy to compute a proportion and its 95% confidence interval.


 > prop.test(1219,3532,correct=FALSE)


        1-sample proportions test without continuity correction

data:   1219 out of 3532, null probability 0.5
X-squared = 338.855, df = 1, p-value < 2.2e-16
alternative hypothesis: true p is not equal to 0.5
95 percent confidence interval:
0.3296275 0.3609695
sample estimates:

R also generates a p-value here, testing the null hypothesis that the proportion is 0.5, i.e., equal proportions.

Test Yourself

A sample of n=100 patients free of diabetes have their body mass index (BMI) measured. 32% of these patients have BMI ≥30 and meet the criteria for obesity. Generate a 95% confidence interval for the proportion of patients free of diabetes who are obese.

Link to Answer in a Word file