Best Subset Regression in R

In this post, we will take a look at best subset regression. Best subset regression fits a model for all possible feature or variable combinations and the decision for the most appropriate model is made by the analyst based on judgment or some statistical criteria.

Best subset regression is an alternative to both Forward and Backward stepwise regression. Forward stepwise selection adds one variable at a time based on the lowest residual sum of squares until no more variables continues to lower the residual sum of squares. Backward stepwise regression starts with all variables in the model and removes variables one at a time. The concern with stepwise methods is they can produce biased regression coefficients, conflicting models, and inaccurate confidence intervals.

Best subset regression bypasses these weaknesses of stepwise models by creating all models possible and then allowing you to assess which variables should be including in your final model. The one drawback to best subset is that a large number of variables means a large number of potential models, which can make it difficult to make a decision among several choices.

In this post, we will use the “Fair” dataset from the “Ecdat” package to predict marital satisfaction based on age, Sex, the presence of children, years married, religiosity, education, occupation, and number of affairs in the past year. Below is some initial code.


We begin our analysis by building the initial model with all variables in it. Below is the code

## Call:
## lm(formula = rate ~ ., data = Fair)
## Residuals:
##     Min      1Q  Median      3Q     Max 
## -3.2049 -0.6661  0.2298  0.7705  2.2292 
## Coefficients:
##              Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
## (Intercept)  3.522875   0.358793   9.819  < 2e-16 ***
## sexmale     -0.062281   0.099952  -0.623  0.53346    
## age         -0.009683   0.007548  -1.283  0.20005    
## ym          -0.019978   0.013887  -1.439  0.15079    
## childyes    -0.206976   0.116227  -1.781  0.07546 .  
## religious    0.042142   0.037705   1.118  0.26416    
## education    0.068874   0.021153   3.256  0.00119 ** 
## occupation  -0.015606   0.029602  -0.527  0.59825    
## nbaffairs   -0.078812   0.013286  -5.932 5.09e-09 ***
## ---
## Signif. codes:  0 '***' 0.001 '**' 0.01 '*' 0.05 '.' 0.1 ' ' 1
## Residual standard error: 1.03 on 592 degrees of freedom
## Multiple R-squared:  0.1405, Adjusted R-squared:  0.1289 
## F-statistic:  12.1 on 8 and 592 DF,  p-value: 4.487e-16

The initial results are already interesting even though the r-square is low. When couples have children the have less martial satisfaction than couples without children when controlling for the other factors and this is the strongest regression weight. In addition, the more education a person has there is an increase in marital satisfaction. Lastly, as the number of affairs increases there is also a decrease in martial satisfaction. Keep in mind that the “rate” variable goes from 1 to 5 with one meaning a terrible marriage to five being a great one. The mean marital satisfaction was 3.52 when controlling for the other variables.

We will now create our subset models. Below is the code.<-regsubsets(rate~.,Fair)

In the code above we create the sub models using the “regsubsets” function from the “leaps” package and saved it in the variable called “”. We then saved the summary of “” in the variable “best.summary”. We will use the “best.summary” “ variables several times to determine which model to use.

There are many different ways to assess the model. We will use the following statistical methods that come with the results from the “regsubset” function.

  • Mallow’ Cp
  • Bayesian Information Criteria

We will make two charts for each of the criteria above. The plot to the left will explain how many features to include in the model. The plot to the right will tell you which variables to include. It is important to note that for both of these methods, the lower the score the better the model. Below is the code for Mallow’s Cp.

plot(,scale = "Cp")


The plot on the left suggest that a four feature model is the most appropriate. However, this chart does not tell me which four features. The chart on the right is read in reverse order. The high numbers are at the bottom and the low numbers are at the top when looking at the y-axis. Knowing this, we can conclude that the most appropriate variables to include in the model are age, children presence, education, and number of affairs. Below are the results using the Bayesian Information Criterion

plot(,scale = "bic")


These results indicate that a three feature model is appropriate. The variables or features are years married, education, and number of affairs. Presence of children was not considered beneficial. Since our original model and Mallow’s Cp indicated that presence of children was significant we will include it for now.

Below is the code for the model based on the subset regression.

## Call:
## lm(formula = rate ~ age + child + education + nbaffairs, data = Fair)
## Residuals:
##     Min      1Q  Median      3Q     Max 
## -3.2172 -0.7256  0.1675  0.7856  2.2713 
## Coefficients:
##              Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
## (Intercept)  3.861154   0.307280  12.566  < 2e-16 ***
## age         -0.017440   0.005057  -3.449 0.000603 ***
## childyes    -0.261398   0.103155  -2.534 0.011531 *  
## education    0.058637   0.017697   3.313 0.000978 ***
## nbaffairs   -0.084973   0.012830  -6.623 7.87e-11 ***
## ---
## Signif. codes:  0 '***' 0.001 '**' 0.01 '*' 0.05 '.' 0.1 ' ' 1
## Residual standard error: 1.029 on 596 degrees of freedom
## Multiple R-squared:  0.1352, Adjusted R-squared:  0.1294 
## F-statistic: 23.29 on 4 and 596 DF,  p-value: < 2.2e-16

The results look ok. The older a person is the less satisfied they are with their marriage. If children are presence the marriage is less satisfying. The more educated the more satisfied they are. Lastly, the higher the number of affairs indicate less marital satisfaction. However, before we get excited we need to check for collinearity and homoscedasticity. Below is the code

##       age     child education nbaffairs 
##  1.249430  1.228733  1.023722  1.014338

No issues with collinearity.For vif values above 5 or 10 indicate a problem. Let’s check for homoscedasticity



The normal qqplot and residuals vs leverage plot can be used for locating outliers. The residual vs fitted and the scale-location plot do not look good as there appears to be a pattern in the dispersion which indicates homoscedasticity. To confirm this we will use Breusch-Pagan test from the “lmtest” package. Below is the code

##  studentized Breusch-Pagan test
## data:  fit2
## BP = 16.238, df = 4, p-value = 0.002716

There you have it. Our model violates the assumption of homoscedasticity. However, this model was developed for demonstration purpose to provide an example of subset regression.


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