A percentage point or percent point is the unit for the arithmetic difference of two percentages. For example, moving up from 40 percent to 44 percent is an increase of 4 percentage points, but a 10-percent increase in the quantity being measured. In literature, the unit is usually either written out, or abbreviated as pp or p.p. to avoid ambiguity. After the first occurrence, some writers abbreviate by using just "point" or "points".
Consider the following hypothetical example: In 1980, 50 percent of the population smoked, and in 1990 only 40 percent of the population smoked. One can thus say that from 1980 to 1990, the prevalence of smoking decreased by 10 percentage points (or by 10 percent of the population) or by 20 percent when talking about smokers only - percentages indicate proportionate part of a total.
Percentage-point differences are one way to express a risk or probability. Consider a drug that cures a given disease in 70 percent of all cases, while without the drug, the disease heals spontaneously in only 50 percent of cases. The drug reduces absolute risk by 20 percentage points. Alternatives may be more meaningful to consumers of statistics, such as the reciprocal, also known as the number needed to treat (NNT). In this case, the reciprocal transform of the percentage-point difference would be 1/(20pp) = 1/0.20 = 5. Thus if 5 patients are treated with the drug, one could expect to heal one more case of the disease than would have occurred in the absence of the drug.
For measurements involving percentages as a unit, such as, growth, yield, or ejection fraction, statistical deviations and related descriptive statistics, including the standard deviation and root-mean-square error, the result should be expressed in units of percentage points instead of percentage. Mistakenly using percentage as the unit for the standard deviation is confusing, since percentage is also used as a unit for the relative standard deviation, i.e. standard deviation divided by average value (coefficient of variation).