Parametric models for biomarkers based on flexible size distributions

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

Health Economics


Apostolos Davillas and Andrew M. Jones

Publication date


Recent advances in social science surveys include collection of biological samples. Although biomarkers offer a large potential for social science and economic research, they impose a number of statistical challenges, often being distributed asymmetrically with heavy tails. Using data from the UK Household Panel Survey, we illustrate the comparative performance of a set of flexible parametric distributions, which allow for a wide range of skewness and kurtosis: the four‐parameter generalized beta of the second kind (GB2), the three‐parameter generalized gamma, and their three‐, two‐, or one‐parameter nested and limiting cases. Commonly used blood‐based biomarkers for inflammation, diabetes, cholesterol, and stress‐related hormones are modelled. Although some of the three‐parameter distributions nested within the GB2 outperform the latter for most of the biomarkers considered, the GB2 can be used as a guide for choosing among competing parametric distributions for biomarkers. Going “beyond the mean” to estimate tail probabilities, we find that GB2 performs fairly well with some disparities at the very high levels of glycated hemoglobin and fibrinogen. Commonly used linear models are shown to perform worse than almost all the flexible distributions.

Volume and page numbers

27, 1617-1624





Statistical Mathematics, Health, Surveys and Biology


Open Access; © 2018 The Authors. Health Economics Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.; This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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