The MeanEncoder() replaces categories with the mean of the target per category. For example, if we are trying to predict default rate, and our data has the variable city, with categories, London, Manchester and Bristol, and the default rate per city is 0.1, 0.5, and 0.3, respectively, the encoder will replace London by 0.1, Manchester by 0.5 and Bristol by 0.3.

The motivation is to try and create a monotonic relationship between the target and the encoded categories. This tends to help improve performance of linear models.

Let’s look at an example using the Titanic Dataset.

First, let’s load the data and separate it into train and test:

import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split

from feature_engine.encoding import MeanEncoder

# Load dataset
def load_titanic():
        data = pd.read_csv('')
        data = data.replace('?', np.nan)
        data['cabin'] = data['cabin'].astype(str).str[0]
        data['pclass'] = data['pclass'].astype('O')
        data['embarked'].fillna('C', inplace=True)
        return data

data = load_titanic()

# Separate into train and test sets
X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(
                data.drop(['survived', 'name', 'ticket'], axis=1),
                data['survived'], test_size=0.3, random_state=0)

Now, we set up the MeanEncoder() to replace the categories only in the 3 indicated variables:

# set up the encoder
encoder = MeanEncoder(variables=['cabin', 'pclass', 'embarked'])

# fit the encoder, y_train)

With fit() the encoder learns the target mean value for each category, which are stored in its encoder_dict_ parameter:


The encoder_dict_ contains the mean value of the target per category, per variable. So we can easily use this dictionary to map the numbers to the original labels.

{'cabin': {'A': 0.5294117647058824,
  'B': 0.7619047619047619,
  'C': 0.5633802816901409,
  'D': 0.71875,
  'E': 0.71875,
  'F': 0.6666666666666666,
  'G': 0.5,
  'T': 0.0,
  'n': 0.30484330484330485},
 'pclass': {1: 0.6173913043478261,
  2: 0.43617021276595747,
  3: 0.25903614457831325},
 'embarked': {'C': 0.5580110497237569,
  'Q': 0.37349397590361444,
  'S': 0.3389570552147239}}

We can now go ahead and replace the original strings with the numbers:

# transform the data
train_t= encoder.transform(X_train)
test_t= encoder.transform(X_test)

Handling Cardinality#

The MeanEncoder() replaces categories with the mean of the target per category. If the variable has low cardinality, then there is a fair representation of each label in the dataset, and the mean target value per category can be determined with some certainty. However, if variables are highly cardinal, with only very few observations for some labels, then the mean target value for those categories will be unreliable.

To encode highly cardinal variables using target mean encoding, we could either group infrequent categories first using the RareLabelEncoder(). Alternatively, we may want to choose different encoding methods that use blends of probabilities to try and better estimate the encoding mappings, like those available in the open-source package Category encoders through the transformers M-estimate and Target Encoder.

More details#

In the following notebook, you can find more details into the MeanEncoder() functionality and example plots with the encoded variables:

All notebooks can be found in a dedicated repository.