Research Methods - Official Statistics

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  • Official Statistics
    • Quantitative data gathered by the government or other official bodies
      • Examples include statistics on: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, exam results, crime, unemployment, health etc
      • Governments use them for policy-making
      • Other organisations and groups can also collect data
        • E.g. trade unions, charities, businesses and churches
    • Two ways of collecting official statistics
      • Registration - e.g. the law requires parents to register births
      • Official Surveys - e.g. census or general household surveys
    • Practical Issues
      • Advantages
        • Free source of large amounts of data - saves time and money
        • Allows comparisons between groups
        • Collected at regular intervals - shows trends and patterns over time - can use them for 'before and after' studies
      • Disadvantages
        • Governments collect statistics for their own purpose - may not be any available in the topic of interest for the sociologist
        • Definitions used by the state may be different to those the sociologist uses
        • Definitions may change over time - makes comparisons difficult
    • Repetitiveness
      • Advantages
        • Cover large numbers of people
        • Care is taken with sampling procedures
        • Provide a better basis for making generalisations and testing hypotheses
      • Disadvantages
        • Some statistics may be less representative
          • Only based on a sample of the relevant population
    • Reliability
      • Advantages
        • Complied in a standardised way by trained staff who follow set procedures
      • Disadvantages
        • Census coders may make errors or omit information when recording data
        • Members of the public may fill information forms in incorrectly
    • Validity
      • Do they actually measure the thing they claim to measure?
        • 'Hard' official statistics =succeed
        • 'Soft' official statistics = less valid picture
    • Positivists
      • Statistics are a valuable resource
      • Official statistics are 'social facts'
      • They are true and objective measures of real information
      • Use official statistics to test their hypotheses
    • Interpretivists
      • Official statistics lack validity
      • Don't represent real things or social facts
      • Socially constructed - represent labels some people give to the behaviour of others
      • Should investigate how they are socially constructed


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