Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and The Truth

Today is World Statistics Day, which I think is an absolutely brilliant idea. Is there a word more maligned and misunderstood than "statistic"? It's connotations often seem entirely negative - "there are damn lies and statistics", "he became a statistic", "you can prove anything with statistics", but statistics are facts. Now there's a difference between "facts" and "the truth" - statistics don't tell the truth, but they don't lie either. The truth is what lies behind the stats.

I wanted to mark this occasion by posting up a few choice stats about transport and commuting, but the latest I could find on the Office for National Statistics web site were 10 years old. So here are a few choice numbers, as published by the ONS, that piqued my interest.

A population of two halves:

The average British woman is 40 years old and has 42 years left to live. If she works full-time she earns £22.151 per year, works 34 hours per week and is educated up to GCSE A*-C grade. She will have 1.96 children in her lifetime.

The average British man is 38, and has 41 years left to live. If he works full-time, he works 39 hours per week and earns £28,270 per year. He is educated up to A-level standard.

Okay, so despite the fact that girls do better at school, the average bloke will progress further with his education. What's this all about? How much is down to peer pressure, expectation, or ethnicity? What about social factors such as teenage pregnancy, or having to look after dependents?

Consuming ourselves:

When a British family goes shopping, the 5 items they are most likely to buy (note the phraseology - is this different from "most commonly bought"?) are: a 2-pint carton of semi-skimmed milk; pre-packed sliced ham; unsweetened breakfast cereal; bacon; a bar of milk chocolate,

Boys aged 7-9 spent £2.40 per week on "games, toys and hobbies" in 2004. Boys aged 13-15 spent £2.60.
Girls aged 7-9 spent £1.20 per week on "games toys and hobbies" in 2004. Girls aged 13-15 spent 50p

Boys aged 13-15 spent £2.50 per week on "clothing and footwear."
Girls aged 13-15 spent £5.30.

Well, this was pre-Facebook and the rise of social networking, so the definition of "toys, games and hobbies" may well have shifted a bit since then. But it does suggest that boys don't grow up. And on the face of it supports the argument that teenage girls are under too much pressure to look good.


The number of single-person households in the UK rose by 2% between 1991 and 2001, and has remained stable since.

That took me by surprise.

Tick tick tick:

In 2008, 24.5% of adults aged 16 or over had a BMI classed as obese.

I've often thought the "obesity timebomb" was an exaggeration but that's nearly a quarter!

With the amount of ideological claptrap that has been spouted by everyone from politicians to trade unions in the past few days since the spending review commenced, there has been a marked absence of any cold, hard facts. Quite uncharacteristically, I have found myself yearning for brutal certainty of a few numbers.

There are certainly a few in there to make you think.


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