Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Comparison of generalized estimating equations and quadratic inference functions using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) database

Adefowope Odueyungbo12, Dillon Browne3, Noori Akhtar-Danesh4 and Lehana Thabane12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

2 Centre for Evaluation of Medicines, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton – a Division of St. Joseph's Health System, Hamilton, Canada

3 Department of Psychology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada

4 School of Nursing, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2008, 8:28  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-8-28

Published: 9 May 2008



The generalized estimating equations (GEE) technique is often used in longitudinal data modeling, where investigators are interested in population-averaged effects of covariates on responses of interest. GEE involves specifying a model relating covariates to outcomes and a plausible correlation structure between responses at different time periods. While GEE parameter estimates are consistent irrespective of the true underlying correlation structure, the method has some limitations that include challenges with model selection due to lack of absolute goodness-of-fit tests to aid comparisons among several plausible models. The quadratic inference functions (QIF) method extends the capabilities of GEE, while also addressing some GEE limitations.


We conducted a comparative study between GEE and QIF via an illustrative example, using data from the "National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY)" database. The NLSCY dataset consists of long-term, population based survey data collected since 1994, and is designed to evaluate the determinants of developmental outcomes in Canadian children. We modeled the relationship between hyperactivity-inattention and gender, age, family functioning, maternal depression symptoms, household income adequacy, maternal immigration status and maternal educational level using GEE and QIF. Basis for comparison include: (1) ease of model selection; (2) sensitivity of results to different working correlation matrices; and (3) efficiency of parameter estimates.


The sample included 795, 858 respondents (50.3% male; 12% immigrant; 6% from dysfunctional families). QIF analysis reveals that gender (male) (odds ratio [OR] = 1.73; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.10 to 2.71), family dysfunctional (OR = 2.84, 95% CI of 1.58 to 5.11), and maternal depression (OR = 2.49, 95% CI of 1.60 to 2.60) are significantly associated with higher odds of hyperactivity-inattention. The results remained robust under GEE modeling. Model selection was facilitated in QIF using a goodness-of-fit statistic. Overall, estimates from QIF were more efficient than those from GEE using AR (1) and Exchangeable working correlation matrices (Relative efficiency = 1.1117; 1.3082 respectively).


QIF is useful for model selection and provides more efficient parameter estimates than GEE. QIF can help investigators obtain more reliable results when used in conjunction with GEE.