Interpreting the Intercept in a regression model isn’t always as straightforward as it looks.

Here’s the definition: the intercept (often labeled the constant) is the expected value of Y when all X=0. But that definition isn’t always helpful. So what does it really mean?

### Regression with One Predictor X

Start with a very simple regression equation, with one predictor, X.

If X sometimes equals 0, the intercept is simply the expected value of Y at that value. In other words, it’s the mean of Y at one value of X. That’s meaningful.

If X never equals 0, then the intercept has no intrinsic meaning. You literally can’t interpret it. That’s actually fine, though. You still need that intercept to give you unbiased estimates of the slope and to calculate accurate predicted values. So while the intercept has a purpose, it’s not meaningful.

Both these scenarios are common in real data. (more…)