Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Beginner's Guide To Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes With Dodgy Statistics

by Julie Embargo, writing for the Grandian about the male-it crunch

Step 1: Start with a dramatic anecdote to reinforce your point before you've even made it.  Anecdotes are important because numbers are essentially meaningless, and a single real life example of someone you once met can prove anything you want it to.

People who've lost a leg make the best anecdotes (try volunteering down the local hospice and making friends with a few cripples) but if all else fails make sure you keep your most melodramatic acquaintances on speed dial.

In today's article, I've used a "considered suicide".  It's used a lot, I know, but it's more "trusty old friend" than "tired and worn out".  With this one example of a man thinking about killing himself after losing his job, I've already proven that men have been hit much harder than the recession than women.  From this point on, it doesn't really matter what I put in the rest of the article, but I have to use a certain number of words, so onwards and upwards!

Step 2: Percentages, percentages, percentages.  Use one that illustrates the point you're making, and then just say it's better/worse than the one you're comparing it to (no need to give the value of the second one).  This removes the need to calculate it properly, and you can compare whichever numbers give you the biggest percentage, just to really drive home your point.

For example, I say male unemployment has gone up 25%.  Now, strictly speaking, the men who were already unemployed aren't as relevant as the proportion of men who were employed and lost their jobs, but just look what happens when you use those numbers!

Say 15 million men had jobs before and 1 million were unemployed.  Then 250,000 men lost their jobs.  Unemployment rises 25%, but Employment only falls by 1.67%.  Rubbish!

The second stage of this step is to compare it to the other group, in this case, women.  No need to give any more numbers, just say one or the other is "much more".  Remember, the numbers are essentially meaningless anyway, especially as I used the wrong numbers to calculate the first percentage.

But, for the sake of argument, let's say female unemployment rose 15%.  Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that 150,000 women lost their jobs, because the starting unemployment numbers won't have been the same as the men's.

Let's say, however, that a significant number of women are housewives and so not registered as either employed or unemployed.  So, say 13 million are in jobs and, again, 1 million are unemployed.  The 15% rise in Unemployment is the same as a 1.15% fall in Employment.  Now it looks as though men aren't quite so much worse off than women, so it's just best to miss these numbers out and not confuse people.

Of course, I plucked all these numbers out of the air, so don't take my word for it!

I could, alternatively, compare how many people have lost their jobs at different salary levels, which might give a more accurate picture of which types of workers are most affected, because essentially men and women are people and function in much the same way, but that would detract from the gender focus of the article, and the central point that all men are in crisis.

To reinforce this point, make sure you keep on only giving statistics for men most of the way through the article, and not compare them to the female equivalent.

Step 3: To close this disparity between the sexes, make a recommendation that boys and girls be treated differently in the education system.  In this case, I've recommended that boys be packed off to apprenticeships, something that anyone who's read Enid Blyton will know, is not appropriate for delicate young women.

Again, notice how I've highlighted how much better men do when they take an apprenticeship.  There's no point giving an equivalent figure for women, because I'm not suggesting that women might want to do an apprenticeship too.

Some woolly modern types might suggest that perhaps all students should be presented with the full range of options, and encouraged to continue on whatever path is most appropriate to them as an individual, but they obviously aren't acquainted with the walking freak show that is Georgina from the Famous Five.

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Hat tip to @rebelraising and @coffeebucks for drawing my attention to the more sensible article.

2 comments:

  1. If the post she wrote allows comments there will be one along the lines of

    "Where did she get her statistics? For shame. Ben Goldacre writes for the Guardian"

    This is far more intelligent than that.

    We do have problems with unemployment but the story is far too murky for neat newspaper headlines. Some people will show up as "retired" who will have taken voluntary severence or been made redundant but just being over 60. Some people will be able to, and choose to, live on savings for a bit. Some people wont be eligible for benefits. Right now the figures don't show the full story. The elephant in the room in a lot of the current crop of economic growth stories is unemployment.

    It needs a proper discussion. Her article seems more like a dismissal of how big the issue really is (though some points are good)

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  2. Thanks. Exactly - there are so many different categories of employment status, using the most dramatic one is not helpful.

    The thing is, there are genuine gender issues in education and employment - though we really need to get over the erroneous idea that this is because of the X & Y chromosomes, and realise that these differences are created/imposed by cultural attitudes.

    I was really impressed with the schools minister this morning, incidentally (can't remember his name), simply for mentioning alternative career paths to university *without* implying that they are inferior in any way.

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