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Keywords:

  • binary outcome;
  • cluster;
  • quadratic estimating equations;
  • intraclass correlation;
  • sandwich variance

The intraclass correlation in binary outcome data sampled from clusters is an important and versatile measure in many biological and biomedical investigations. Properties of the different estimators of the intraclass correlation based on the parametric, semi-parametric, and nonparametric approaches have been studied extensively, mainly in terms of bias and efficiency [see, for example, Ridout et al., Biometrics 1999, 55:137–148; Paul et al., Journal of Statistical Computation and Simulation 2003, 73:507–523; and Lee, Statistical Modelling 2004, 4: 113–126], but little attention has been paid to extending these results to the problem of the confidence intervals. In this article, we generalize the results of the four point estimators by constructing asymptotic confidence intervals obtaining closed-form asymptotic and sandwich variance expressions of those four point estimators. It appears from simulation results that the asymptotic confidence intervals based on these four estimators have serious under-coverage. To remedy this, we introduce the Fisher's z-transformation approach on the intraclass correlation coefficient, the profile likelihood approach based on the beta-binomial model, and the hybrid profile variance approach based on the quadratic estimating equation for constructing the confidence intervals of the intraclass correlation for binary outcome data. As assessed by Monte Carlo simulations, these confidence interval approaches show significant improvement in the coverage probabilities. Moreover, the profile likelihood approach performs quite well by providing coverage levels close to nominal over a wide range of parameter combinations. We provide applications to biological data to illustrate the methods. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.