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Chapter 1. Introduction > WHAT IS SURVIVAL DATA?

WHAT IS SURVIVAL DATA?

Survival analysis was designed for longitudinal data on the occurrence of events. But what is an event? Biostatisticians haven't written much about this question because they have been overwhelmingly concerned with deaths. When you consider other kinds of events, however, it's important to clarify what is an event and what is not. I define an event as a qualitative change that can be situated in time. By a qualitative change, I mean a transition from one discrete state to another. A marriage, for example, is a transition from the state of being unmarried to the state of being married. A promotion consists of the transition from a job at one level to a job at a higher level. An arrest can be thought of as a transition from, say, two previous arrests to three previous arrests.

To apply survival analysis, you need to know more than just who is married and who is not married. You need to know when the change occurred. That is, you should be able to situate the event in time. Ideally, the transitions occur virtually instantaneously, and you know the exact times at which they occur. Some transitions may take a little time, however, and the exact time of onset may be unknown or ambiguous. If the event of interest is a political revolution, for example, you may know only the year in which it began. That's all right so long as the interval in which the event occurs is short relative to the overall duration of the observation.


  

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