How to Calculate the Mean in R

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This article will walk you through various methods to calculate the mean in R, giving you a deep understanding of their applications.

The Basics of Mean

Before we proceed, let’s quickly discuss what the mean is. The mean, often referred to as the average, is a measure of central tendency that sums up all values in a data set and then divides by the number of values. For example, if you have the numbers 1, 2, and 3, the mean would be (1+2+3)/3 = 2.

Calculating Mean in R

1. The Basic Mean Function

The simplest way to calculate the mean in R is by using the built-in mean() function. This function takes a vector of numbers and returns the average. Consider the following example:

numbers <- c(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

This code creates a numeric vector named “numbers” and calculates the mean. The result will be 3.

2. The Mean of Columns in a Data Frame

In many real-world applications, you will be working with data frames, which are tabular data structures in R. You can calculate the mean for each numeric column in a data frame with the colMeans() function. Consider the following data frame:

df <- data.frame(
  "A" = c(1, 2, 3, 4, 5),
  "B" = c(6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

This code calculates the mean of columns A and B separately and returns a named vector with these means.

3. Mean of a Single Column in a Data Frame

You can also calculate the mean of a single column by using the mean() function and indexing the column. Following the previous example, if you want to calculate the mean of column A:


4. The Mean of Rows in a Data Frame

If you want to calculate the mean of each row in a data frame, use the rowMeans() function:


This code will return a vector with the mean of each row.

Dealing with Missing Values

In real-world datasets, it’s common to find missing values, represented as NA in R. If you try to calculate the mean with missing values in your data, R will return NA as a result. For example:

numbers <- c(1, 2, NA, 4, 5)

This code will return NA because of the missing value. To calculate the mean ignoring the NA values, use the na.rm argument:

mean(numbers, na.rm = TRUE)

The na.rm = TRUE argument tells R to remove NA values before performing the calculation. The mean will then be calculated based on the available values.

The Mean with dplyr Package

The dplyr package is a powerful tool for data manipulation in R. It provides the summarise() and summarise_all() functions, which can be used to calculate the mean of columns in a data frame.

1. Mean of a Single Column with dplyr

First, install and load the dplyr package:


Then, you can calculate the mean of a column using the summarise() function:

df %>% summarise(mean_A = mean(A, na.rm = TRUE))

This code calculates the mean of column A, ignoring NA values.

2. Mean of All Columns with dplyr

You can also calculate the mean of all columns in a data frame using the summarise_all() function:

df %>% summarise_all(mean, na.rm = TRUE)

This code will return a new data frame with the mean of each column, ignoring NA values.

The Mean with data.table Package

The data.table package provides an efficient way to handle and process large datasets in R. The mean can be calculated using the lapply() function combined with mean().

First, install and load the data.table package:


Convert your data frame to a data.table:

dt <-

Calculate the mean of each column:

dt[, lapply(.SD, mean, na.rm = TRUE)]

In this example, .SD refers to the Subset of Data excluding the group by columns.


R provides various methods to compute the mean, each with its benefits and applicable scenarios. The basic mean function is suitable for simple vectors, while functions like colMeans, rowMeans, and dplyr’s summarise functions offer more functionalities for data frames. On the other hand, the data.table package offers efficient handling and processing for larger datasets.

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