Deciding on the starting number of classes of a latent class tree

Mattis Van Den Bergh, Geert H. Van Kollenburg, Jeroen K. Vermunt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
75 Downloads (Pure)


In recent studies, latent class tree (LCT) modeling has been proposed as a convenient alternative to standard latent class (LC) analysis. Instead of using an estimation method in which all classes are formed simultaneously given the specified number of classes, in LCT analysis a hierarchical structure of mutually linked classes is obtained by sequentially splitting classes into two subclasses. The resulting tree structure gives a clear insight into how the classes are formed and how solutions with different numbers of classes are substantively linked to one another. A limitation of the current LCT modeling approach is that it allows only for binary splits, which in certain situations may be too restrictive. Especially at the root node of the tree, where an initial set of classes is created based on the most dominant associations present in the data, it may make sense to use a model with more than two classes. In this article, we propose a modification of the LCT approach that allows for a nonbinary split at the root node, and we provide methods to determine the appropriate number of classes in this first split, based either on theoretical grounds or on a relative improvement of fit measure. This novel approach also can be seen as a hybrid of a standard LC model and a binary LCT model, in which an initial, oversimplified but interpretable model is refined using an LCT approach. Furthermore, we show how to apply an LCT model when a nonstandard LC model is required. These new approaches are illustrated using two empirical applications: one on social capital and the other on (post)materialism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-336
JournalSociological Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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