Non-invariance? An Overstated Problem With Misconceived Causes

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Scholars study representative international surveys to understand cross-cultural differences in mentality patterns, which are measured via complex multi-item constructs. Methodologists in this field insist with increasing vigor that detecting “non-invariance” in how a construct’s items associate with each other in different national samples is an infallible sign of encultured in-equivalences in how respondents understand the items. Questioning this claim, we demonstrate that a main source of non-invariance is the arithmetic of closed-ended scales in the presence of sample mean disparity. Since arithmetic principles are culture-unspecific, the non-invariance that these principles enforce in statistical terms is inconclusive of encultured in-equivalences in semantic terms. Because of this inconclusiveness, our evidence reveals furthermore that non-invariance is inconsequential for the cross-cultural functioning of multi-item constructs as concerns their nomological linkages to other variables of interest. We discuss the implications of these insights for measurement validation in cross-cultural settings with large sample mean disparity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Methods and Research
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)1368-1400
Number of pages33
Publication statusPublished - 08.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Because the substance of our contribution is fundamentally critical of the methodological mainstream in the field of measurement equivalence, we are especially grateful to the editor of SMR and the anonymous reviewers for their instructive comments and for letting us pass to publication. We also thank the following colleagues for their invaluable comments on earlier versions of this paper and their encouragement: Plamen Akalyiski, Sjoerd Beugelsdijk, Klaus Boehnke, Michael H. Bond, Hermann Duelmer, Vera Lomazzi, Bert Meulemann, Michael (Misho) Minkov, Eduard (Ed) Ponarin, and Boris Sokolov. Any remaining shortcomings fall exclusively into our own responsibility. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Significant parts of this study have been funded by the Russian Academic Excellence Project ‘5-100’.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

    Research areas

  • compositional substitutability, emancipative values, item response, measurement equivalence, multigroup confirmatory factor analysis
  • Politics