• Contextual variation;
  • Illiteracy;
  • India;
  • Multilevel modelling;
  • Multiple spatial levels;
  • Overdispersion;
  • Variance partition coefficient

Summary.  A common application of multilevel models is to apportion the variance in the response according to the different levels of the data. Whereas partitioning variances is straightforward in models with a continuous response variable with a normal error distribution at each level, the extension of this partitioning to models with binary responses or to proportions or counts is less obvious. We describe methodology due to Goldstein and co-workers for apportioning variance that is attributable to higher levels in multilevel binomial logistic models. This partitioning they referred to as the variance partition coefficient. We consider extending the variance partition coefficient concept to data sets when the response is a proportion and where the binomial assumption may not be appropriate owing to overdispersion in the response variable. Using the literacy data from the 1991 Indian census we estimate simple and complex variance partition coefficients at multiple levels of geography in models with significant overdispersion and thereby establish the relative importance of different geographic levels that influence educational disparities in India.