Monday, 5 November 2007

Journalists are notoriously cack-handed when quoting statistics to back up their stories, and something I heard on the 'Today' programme this morning only served to strengthen this stereotype.

It was a report by Nick Easton about how statistics have shown that the family has not significantly declined since a previous report published in the 1950s. The report stated that in fact families are still close-knit, and many people value their family relationships more than any other, despite the family dynamic having changed.

But then he illustrated this with the following statistic: "The average distance we live from our most emotionally important relation is 80 miles."

To me this did not help to illustrate the point the reporter wanted to make. I mean, I know the sample would have been quite large and therefore more representative than what I'm about to say, but...

From my persective, having lived abroad a number of times, my answer to the question "How far do you live from your most emotionally important relation" would have depended on when you asked me. Moreover, my actual relationship with my family did not change according to my geographical location.

I'm definitely not unique in having lived abroad, as we are a much more mobile society nowadays, so the percentage quoted on 'Today' must be misleading.

As for six of my best friends, if I conducted a survey on the average distance we live from our parents, one result would throw out all the others. One of my friends lives in South Korea, while the rest of us live in England. This reveals nothing about the emotional closeness we may or not enjoy with our families.

What use is the survey's statistic in revealing how emotionally involved we are to our families, especially taking into account communications technology? Quantitative data can't reflect the qualitative nature of family relationships, so why did Nick Easton include that statistic in his report at all?

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