Calculate Correlation Coefficient in Excel

Calculating correlation coefficients between two data series is a common task in fields such as statistics, finance, and social sciences. 

In this tutorial, I will show you how to calculate correlation coefficients in Excel using the built-in CORREL function and the Analysis ToolPak add-in.

Note: There are several types of correlation coefficients, but in this tutorial, I will focus on the Pearson correlation coefficient, which is the most widely used. 

What is a Correlation Coefficient?

A correlation coefficient is a numerical value that indicates the strength and direction of a relationship between two variables. It measures how closely one variable’s movements are related to another variable’s movements.

The correlation coefficient ranges from -1 to +1:

  •  A correlation coefficient of -1 indicates a perfect negative correlation, meaning that as one variable increases, the other decreases linearly.
  • A correlation coefficient of 0 indicates no linear relationship between the variables.
  • A correlation coefficient of +1 indicates a perfect positive correlation, meaning that as one variable increases, the other also increases linearly.

A correlation coefficient closer to +1 or -1 indicates a stronger relationship between the variables, while a coefficient closer to 0 indicates a weaker relationship.

Method #1: Calculate Correlation Coefficient Using the CORREL Function in Excel

You can use Excel’s built-in CORREL function to compute the correlation coefficient between two data series. The syntax of the function is:

CORREL(Array1, Array2)

The function requires Array1 and Array2 parameters, which can be cell ranges or data series.

Suppose you have the dataset below showing the height and weight of fifteen students in a college.

To compute the correlation coefficient between the height and weight of the students, enter the following formula in cell C18:


The CORREL function returns a Pearson correlation coefficient slightly above 0.6, which indicates a relatively strong positive correlation between the student’s height and weight.

One advantage of this method is that it is dynamic. The function recalculates and returns an updated correlation coefficient if the data changes. The downside is that it can only work on one pair of data series at a time.

You can use the Analysis ToolPak add-in, described in the next section, to compute the correlation coefficient of multiple pairs of data series simultaneously.

Also read: Calculate the Coefficient of Variation in Excel

Method #2: Calculate Correlation Coefficient Using the Analysis ToolPak Add-in

Excel has the Analysis ToolPak add-in, which you can use to compute the correlation coefficients of multiple pairs of data series simultaneously.

However, the add-in is turned off by default, and you must enable it before using it.

How to Enable the Analysis ToolPak Add-in

You can use the steps below to enable the Analysis ToolPak Add-in:

  1. Click the File command to open the Backstage view.
  1. On the left sidebar of the Backstage view, click the Options category at the bottom.
  1. On the Excel Options dialog box that appears, click the Add-ins category on the left sidebar, select Excel Add-ins on the Manage drop-down menu on the right pane, and click the Go button.
  1. On the Add-ins dialog box that appears, select the Analysis ToolPak checkbox on the Add-ins available list box and click OK.

The steps above will add the Analysis group to the Data tab on the Ribbon, with the Data Analysis option. 

How to Calculate Correlation Coefficients Using the Analysis ToolPak

Now that you have enabled the Analysis ToolPak, you can use it to calculate correlation coefficients of one or multiple pairs of data series.

Suppose you have the following dataset with three data series. You want to find the correlation coefficients for three pairs of data series: height and weight, height and stipend, and weight and stipend.

You can use the steps below to accomplish the task:

  1. Click the Data tab and the Data Analysis option on the Analysis group.
  1. On the Data Analysis dialog box that appears, select Correlation on the Analysis Tools list box and click OK.
  1. On the Correlation dialog box that appears, do the following:
    1. On the Input options group, click the range selector button on the Input Range text box and select the three data series, including the headers.
    2. Select the Columns option on the Grouped By options.
    3. Select the ‘Labels in first row’ checkbox.
    4. On the Output options group, choose where you want the resultant correlation matrix to be displayed. You can select the worksheet containing the data, a new worksheet, or a new workbook. In this example, I chose the cell range beginning at cell F1 on the dataset worksheet.
    5. Click OK.

The steps above will output a correlation matrix table on the target output area.

The matrix table contains the correlation coefficients for all combinations of the data series.

The results indicate a strong correlation between the students’ height and weight, a weak correlation between the students’ height and the stipend they receive, and a weak correlation between the students’ weight and their stipend.

The drawback of this method is that the resultant matrix table is static. If your data changes, you must rerun the analysis to generate a new matrix table of updated coefficients.

Also read: How to Calculate Standard Error in Excel?

Dealing with Outliers When Calculating Correlation Coefficient

Outliers are data points that significantly differ from other observations in the dataset.

They can have a substantial impact on the correlation coefficient, potentially distorting the perceived relationship between variables. Here’s how outliers can affect your analysis:

  1. Inflated or Deflated Correlation: Outliers can artificially inflate or deflate the correlation coefficient. For instance, a single outlier can make a weak relationship appear strong, or a strong relationship appear weak.
  2. Misleading Direction: Outliers can change the direction of the correlation. For example, a dataset with a positive correlation might appear to have a negative correlation if there are significant outliers.

Identifying Outliers

Before handling outliers, it’s essential to identify them.

Here are some common methods to detect outliers in Excel:

  1. Visual Inspection: Create scatter plots to visually inspect the data for any points that stand out.
  2. Z-Scores: Calculate the Z-scores for your data. Typically, a Z-score greater than 3 or less than -3 indicates an outlier.
  3. Interquartile Range (IQR): Calculate the Interquartile Range and identify data points that fall below Q1 – 1.5IQR or above Q3 + 1.5IQR as outliers.

Handling Outliers

Once you’ve identified outliers, you have several options for handling them:

  1. Remove Outliers: If the outliers are due to data entry errors or are not representative of the population, you might consider removing them. However, this should be done cautiously to avoid losing valuable information.
  2. Transform Data: Apply transformations such as logarithmic or square root transformations to reduce the impact of outliers. For example: To apply a logarithmic transformation in Excel, use the formula =LOG(A2), where A2 is the cell containing your data point.
  3. Winsorize Data: Replace outliers with the nearest non-outlier values. This method reduces the impact of outliers without removing them completely. For example, if you decide to winsorize data, you can replace values greater than the 95th percentile with the value at the 95th percentile and values less than the 5th percentile with the value at the 5th percentile.

By carefully identifying and managing outliers, you can ensure that your correlation analysis provides a more accurate reflection of the relationship between your variables.

This step is crucial for making informed decisions based on your data.

Limitations of Using Correlation Coefficients

Understanding the limitations of correlation analysis is crucial for correctly interpreting and applying the results.

Here are some key limitations:

1. Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

One of the most important limitations is that correlation does not imply causation. Just because two variables are correlated does not mean that one causes the other.

There could be other underlying factors or variables influencing both.

Example: Ice cream sales and drowning incidents may be correlated, but eating ice cream does not cause drowning. The underlying variable could be the weather, as both tend to increase during hot weather.

2. Linear Relationships Only

The correlation coefficient measures only linear relationships between variables. If the relationship is non-linear, the correlation coefficient might be misleading or fail to capture the true nature of the relationship.

3. Sensitivity to Outliers

Correlation coefficients are sensitive to outliers, which can distort the results. A few extreme values can significantly affect the correlation, making it appear stronger or weaker than it actually is.

Example: In a dataset of students’ test scores and study hours, one student with extremely high scores but few study hours can skew the correlation.

4. Does Not Account for Confounding Variables

Correlation analysis does not control for confounding variables, which can influence the relationship between the two variables being studied. These confounders can lead to spurious correlations.

Example: A correlation between exercise frequency and cholesterol levels might be influenced by diet, a confounding variable not accounted for in the analysis.

5. Cannot Distinguish Between Independent and Dependent Variables

The correlation coefficient does not distinguish between independent and dependent variables.

It treats both variables symmetrically, meaning it does not indicate which variable influences the other.

Example: The correlation between advertising expenditure and sales does not indicate whether increased advertising drives sales or if higher sales lead to increased advertising budgets.

6. Assumes Homoscedasticity

Correlation assumes homoscedasticity, meaning the variability in one variable is consistent across all levels of the other variable. Heteroscedasticity (unequal variability) can lead to misleading correlation results.

Example: If the variability in income increases with age, the assumption of homoscedasticity is violated, potentially affecting the correlation between age and income.

Some Use Cases of Correlation Coefficients

Now that you know how to calculate correlation coefficients, you can apply this knowledge in various fields and contexts, such as the following:

  1. You can use correlation coefficients In finance and economics to comprehend the relationship between the returns of assets, such as bonds, stocks, or commodities. This understanding can be helpful for portfolio diversification and risk management.
  2. In marketing, you can calculate correlation coefficients to understand the relationship between marketing efforts and outcomes, such as the correlation between advertising expenditure and sales.
  3. In education, you can use correlation coefficients to understand the relationship between various factors, such as teaching methods, student engagement, and academic performance.
  4. Correlation coefficients can help you understand the relationship between different process variables and product quality in manufacturing processes.
  5. Correlation coefficients can help you comprehend the relationship between weather variables, such as temperature and precipitation or atmospheric pressure and wind speed.

In this tutorial, I showed you two methods for calculating correlation coefficients in Excel. I hope you found the tutorial helpful.

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I am a huge fan of Microsoft Excel and love sharing my knowledge through articles and tutorials. I work as a business analyst and use Microsoft Excel extensively in my daily tasks. My aim is to help you unleash the full potential of Excel and become a data-slaying wizard yourself.

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