5 Best Ways to Quantify the Shape of a Distribution in a DataFrame in Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Data scientists and analysts often need to understand the shape of a distribution within a DataFrame to make informed decisions. Quantifying the shape can involve measures of central tendency, variability, and skewness/kurtosis. Given a DataFrame with numerical data, the task is to calculate and interpret various statistical measures to describe the shape of the data’s distribution.

Method 1: Descriptive Statistics with Pandas

Utilizing the Pandas library, one can quickly generate descriptive statistics that summarize the central tendency, dispersion, and shape of a dataset’s distribution. The describe() function is particularly handy as it provides a quick overview of these metrics for all numerical columns.

Here’s an example:

import pandas as pd

# Sample DataFrame
df = pd.DataFrame({'values': [2, 3, 5, 3, 7]})

# Getting descriptive statistics


count    5.000000
mean     4.000000
std      1.870829
min      2.000000
25%      3.000000
50%      3.000000
75%      5.000000
max      7.000000
Name: values, dtype: float64

This code snippet creates a simple DataFrame and uses the describe() method on a particular column to generate a set of descriptive statistics, giving immediate insights into the distribution’s shape.

Method 2: Skewness and Kurtosis with SciPy

The SciPy library provides functions to calculate the skewness and kurtosis of a distribution, which are measures of asymmetry and the ‘tailedness’, respectively. SciPy’s skew() and kurtosis() functions are essential for a more nuanced understanding of distribution shape.

Here’s an example:

from scipy.stats import skew, kurtosis

# Sample DataFrame
df = pd.DataFrame({'values': [2, 8, 0, 4, 6, 9, 3]})

# Calculating Skewness and Kurtosis
print('Skewness:', skew(df['values']))
print('Kurtosis:', kurtosis(df['values']))


Skewness: 0.2650554122698573
Kurtosis: -1.165390135045972

This snippet imports the skewness and kurtosis functions from SciPy and applies them to a column in a DataFrame to quantify the asymmetry and tailedness of the distribution.

Method 3: Histograms with Matplotlib

A histogram is a graphical representation of the distribution of a dataset. Matplotlib, a graphing library for Python, can be used to create histograms for visual analysis of the data’s distribution. This method excels in giving a visual summary of data variability.

Here’s an example:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# Sample DataFrame
df = pd.DataFrame({'values': [1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5]})

# Plotting histogram
plt.hist(df['values'], bins=5, alpha=0.7)

The output is a histogram with the data’s frequency distribution.

This code uses Matplotlib to create a histogram, which will graphically display the frequency distribution of the ‘values’ column from the DataFrame, providing a quick way to observe the distribution of the data.

Method 4: QQ-Plots with StatsModels

The QQ-plot, or quantile-quantile plot, is a graphical technique to compare a dataset’s distribution to a theoretical distribution by plotting their quantiles against each other. StatsModels offers a function to create QQ-plots easily. This method helps in determining if the data follows a particular theoretical distribution.

Here’s an example:

import statsmodels.api as sm
import numpy as np

# Sample DataFrame
df = pd.DataFrame({'values': np.random.normal(0, 1, 100)})

# Generating QQ-plot
sm.qqplot(df['values'], line='s')

The output is a QQ-plot comparing the sample data to a normal distribution.

The snippet above generates random data following a normal distribution, uses the StatsModels library to create a QQ-plot, and then visualizes it using Matplotlib.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Describing Distribution with Pandas One-liner

The Pandas library enables efficient summarization of statistical data using a one-liner code. The agg() function can apply a list of functions to the DataFrame to yield insightful metrics, making an overall excellent quick assessment tool.

Here’s an example:

print(df['values'].agg(['mean', 'median', 'std', 'skew', 'kurt']))


mean      0.076227
median   -0.015080
std       1.040546
skew     -0.084207
kurt      0.034911
Name: values, dtype: float64

A single line of code succinctly provides several statistics that collectively describe the distribution of the ‘values’ column in the DataFrame.


  • Method 1: Descriptive Statistics with Pandas. Easy to use. Provides a comprehensive overview. Might lack depth for specific distribution traits.
  • Method 2: Skewness and Kurtosis with SciPy. Measures important aspects of distribution shape. Not as straightforward for those unfamiliar with statistical concepts.
  • Method 3: Histograms with Matplotlib. Visually intuitive. Great for a quick check. May require finer binning adjustments for detailed analysis.
  • Method 4: QQ-Plots with StatsModels. Good for comparing to theoretical distributions. Can be complex for those without statistical background.
  • Bonus Method 5: Pandas One-liner. Exceptionally concise. Offers a snapshot of the distribution. Does not provide in-depth visual analysis.