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Two-Cases for Independent Means
Section* *

As with comparing two population proportions, when we compare two population means from independent populations, the interest is in the difference of the two means. In other words, if \(\mu_1\) is the population mean from population 1 and \(\mu_2\) is the population mean from population 2, then the difference is \(\mu_1-\mu_2\). If \(\mu_1-\mu_2=0\) then there is no difference between the two population parameters.

If each population is normal, then the sampling distribution of \(\bar{x}_i\) is normal with mean \(\mu_i\), standard error \(\dfrac{\sigma_i}{\sqrt{n_i}}\), and the estimated standard error \(\dfrac{s_i}{\sqrt{n_i}}\), for \(i=1, 2\).

Using the Central Limit Theorem, if the population is not normal, then with a large sample, the sampling distribution is approximately normal.

The theorem presented in this Lesson says that if either of the above are true, then \(\bar{x}_1-\bar{x}_2\) is approximately normal with mean \(\mu_1-\mu_2\), and standard error \(\sqrt{\dfrac{\sigma^2_1}{n_1}+\dfrac{\sigma^2_2}{n_2}}\).

However, in most cases, \(\sigma_1\) and \(\sigma_2\) are unknown, and they have to be estimated. It seems natural to estimate \(\sigma_1\) by \(s_1\) and \(\sigma_2\) by \(s_2\). When the sample sizes are small, the estimates may not be that accurate and one may get a better estimate for the common standard deviation by pooling the data from both populations if the standard deviations for the two populations are not that different.

Given this, there are two options for estimating the variances for the independent samples:

- Using pooled variances
- Using unpooled (or unequal) variances

When to use which? When we are reasonably sure that the two populations have nearly equal variances, then we use the pooled variances test. Otherwise, we use the unpooled (or separate) variance test.