The beta distribution is useful in modeling continuous random variables that lie between 0 and 1, such as proportions and percentages. The beta distribution takes on many different shapes and may be described by two shape parameters, alpha and beta, that can be difficult to estimate. Maximum likelihood and method of moments estimation are possible, though method of moments is much more straightforward. We examine both of these methods here, and compare them to three more proposed methods of parameter estimation: 1) a method used in the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), 2) a modification of the two-sided power distribution (TSP), and 3) a quantile estimator based on the first and third quartiles of the beta distribution. We find the quantile estimator performs as well as maximum likelihood and method of moments estimators for most beta distributions. The PERT and TSP estimators do well for a smaller subset of beta distributions, though they never outperform the maximum likelihood, method of moments, or quantile estimators. We apply these estimation techniques to two data sets to see how well they approximate real data from Major League Baseball (batting averages) and the U.S. Department of Energy (radiation exposure). We find the maximum likelihood, method of moments, and quantile estimators perform well with batting averages (sample size 160), and the method of moments and quantile estimators perform well with radiation exposure proportions (sample size 20). Maximum likelihood estimators would likely do fine with such a small sample size were it not for the iterative method needed to solve for alpha and beta, which is quite sensitive to starting values. The PERT and TSP estimators do more poorly in both situations. We conclude that in addition to maximum likelihood and method of moments estimation, our method of quantile estimation is efficient and accurate in estimating parameters of the beta distribution.
College and Department
Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Statistics
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Owen, Claire Elayne Bangerter, "Parameter Estimation for the Beta Distribution" (2008). All Theses and Dissertations. 1614.
beta distribution, parameter estimation, maximum likelihood, method of moments