The impact of partial measurement invariance on between-group comparisons of latent means for a second-order factor

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A simulation study was conducted to explore the influence of partial loading invariance and partial intercept invariance on the latent mean comparison of the second-order factor within a higher-order confirmatory

A simulation study was conducted to explore the influence of partial loading invariance and partial intercept invariance on the latent mean comparison of the second-order factor within a higher-order confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) model. Noninvariant loadings or intercepts were generated to be at one of the two levels or both levels for a second-order CFA model. The numbers and directions of differences in noninvariant loadings or intercepts were also manipulated, along with total sample size and effect size of the second-order factor mean difference. Data were analyzed using correct and incorrect specifications of noninvariant loadings and intercepts. Results summarized across the 5,000 replications in each condition included Type I error rates and powers for the chi-square difference test and the Wald test of the second-order factor mean difference, estimation bias and efficiency for this latent mean difference, and means of the standardized root mean square residual (SRMR) and the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA).

When the model was correctly specified, no obvious estimation bias was observed; when the model was misspecified by constraining noninvariant loadings or intercepts to be equal, the latent mean difference was overestimated if the direction of the difference in loadings or intercepts of was consistent with the direction of the latent mean difference, and vice versa. Increasing the number of noninvariant loadings or intercepts resulted in larger estimation bias if these noninvariant loadings or intercepts were constrained to be equal. Power to detect the latent mean difference was influenced by estimation bias and the estimated variance of the difference in the second-order factor mean, in addition to sample size and effect size. Constraining more parameters to be equal between groups—even when unequal in the population—led to a decrease in the variance of the estimated latent mean difference, which increased power somewhat. Finally, RMSEA was very sensitive for detecting misspecification due to improper equality constraints in all conditions in the current scenario, including the nonzero latent mean difference, but SRMR did not increase as expected when noninvariant parameters were constrained.