Empirical measure

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In probability theory, an empirical measure is a random measure arising from a particular realization of a (usually finite) sequence of random variables. The precise definition is found below. Empirical measures are relevant to mathematical statistics.

The motivation for studying empirical measures is that it is often impossible to know the true underlying probability measure . We collect observations and compute relative frequencies. We can estimate , or a related distribution function by means of the empirical measure or empirical distribution function, respectively. These are uniformly good estimates under certain conditions. Theorems in the area of empirical processes provide rates of this convergence.


Let be a sequence of independent identically distributed random variables with values in the state space S with probability distribution P.


The empirical measure Pn is defined for measurable subsets of S and given by
where is the indicator function and is the Dirac measure.


  • For a fixed measurable set A, nPn(A) is a binomial random variable with mean nP(A) and variance nP(A)(1 − P(A)).
  • For a fixed partition of S, random variables form a multinomial distribution with event probabilities
    • The covariance matrix of this multinomial distribution is .


is the empirical measure indexed by , a collection of measurable subsets of S.

To generalize this notion further, observe that the empirical measure maps measurable functions to their empirical mean,

In particular, the empirical measure of A is simply the empirical mean of the indicator function, Pn(A) = Pn IA.

For a fixed measurable function , is a random variable with mean and variance .

By the strong law of large numbers, Pn(A) converges to P(A) almost surely for fixed A. Similarly converges to almost surely for a fixed measurable function . The problem of uniform convergence of Pn to P was open until Vapnik and Chervonenkis solved it in 1968.[1]

If the class (or ) is Glivenko–Cantelli with respect to P then Pn converges to P uniformly over (or ). In other words, with probability 1 we have

Empirical distribution function[edit]

The empirical distribution function provides an example of empirical measures. For real-valued iid random variables it is given by

In this case, empirical measures are indexed by a class It has been shown that is a uniform Glivenko–Cantelli class, in particular,

with probability 1.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vapnik, V.; Chervonenkis, A (1968). "Uniform convergence of frequencies of occurrence of events to their probabilities". Dokl. Akad. Nauk SSSR. 181.

Further reading[edit]