The sensitivity of confirmatory factor analytic fit indices to violations of factorial invariance across latent classes: a simulation study
Although the issue of factorial invariance has received increasing attention in the literature, the focus is typically on differences in factor structure across groups that are directly observed, such as those denoted by sex or ethnicity. While establishing factorial invariance across observed groups is a requisite step in making meaningful cross-group comparisons, failure to attend to possible sources of latent class heterogeneity in the form of class-based differences in factor structure has the potential to compromise conclusions with respect to observed groups and may result in misguided attempts at instrument development and theory refinement. The present studies examined the sensitivity of two widely used confirmatory factor analytic model fit indices, the chi-square test of model fit and RMSEA, to latent class differences in factor structure. Two primary questions were addressed. The first of these concerned the impact of latent class differences in factor loadings with respect to model fit in a single sample reflecting a mixture of classes. The second question concerned the impact of latent class differences in configural structure on tests of factorial invariance across observed groups. The results suggest that both indices are highly insensitive to class-based differences in factor loadings. Across sample size conditions, models with medium (0.2) sized loading differences were rejected by the chi-square test of model fit at rates just slightly higher than the nominal .05 rate of rejection that would be expected under a true null hypothesis. While rates of rejection increased somewhat when the magnitude of loading difference increased, even the largest sample size with equal class representation and the most extreme violations of loading invariance only had rejection rates of approximately 60%. RMSEA was also insensitive to class-based differences in factor loadings, with mean values across conditions suggesting a degree of fit that would generally be regarded as exceptionally good in practice. In contrast, both indices were sensitive to class-based differences in configural structure in the context of a multiple group analysis in which each observed group was a mixture of classes. However, preliminary evidence suggests that this sensitivity may contingent on the form of the cross-group model misspecification.