Advantages And Disadvantages Of Official Statistics In Sociological Research

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Assess the Advantages and Disadvantages of Official Statistics

Official statistics are quantitative data produced by local and national government bodies, and can cover a wide range of behaviour including births, deaths, marriages and divorce, income, crime, and work and leisure. Official statistics can be produced as a by-product of the normal workings of a government department, but they can also result from research designed specifically to produce them. Two main sources of official statistics are the government and its departments, and surveys. For example, government departments such as the Home Office and Education and Skills request; process and then publish information from organisations such as local tax offices, social services and hospitals. An example of a source of surveys that produce official statistics is The Office for National Statistics, which is a government agency and is responsible for compiling and analysing statistics. Every ten years this agency carries out the Census of the Population, which covers every household in the UK. By law each head of household must complete a questionnaire that includes family composition, housing occupation, transport and leisure. Official statistics are used by sociologists because of their many advantages. A main plus is that official statistics are often compiled from data which has been gathered from a large sample size. The majority of sociologists could probably not afford to carry out such vast research. The size of the sample also tends to increase the representivity of the statistics. They also tend to be well organised and planned when researched, so the standards of sociological research can be met. Official statistics are usually readily available and relatively inexpensive, so sociologists can spend more time and money analysing data than collecting it. Statistics can also sometimes be the only source available for a specific topic, such as unemployment figures. Another advantage is that statistics allow sociologists to make comparisons over time, as they are usually produced regularly, for example the Population Census, which is carried out every ten years. This is similar to longitudinal studies, however the sample size of official statistical data is usually much larger. Looking at the above advantages, it would be easy to draw a conclusion that official statistics are in fact very useful as a source of data, however there are also important disadvantages to official statistics. Official statistics are not always produced in a useful form, making them harder for a sociologist to analyse and draw any trends and patterns from. Another disadvantage is that statistics do not always measure what they intend to measure. For example the Home Office Crime Rates Statistics do not take into account the fact that not all crime is reported. This can decrease the representivity of the data. Another factor which must be considered when interpreting official statistics is that because official statistics are usually produced by the government, they may be politically biased, for example to show that their policies are having the predicted effect. A well-known example of this is that the method of collecting unemployment statistics has changed many times, which gives the appearance that the unemployment rate it falling. From these disadvantages it would appear that although statistics can be very enlightening and useful, there are several pitfalls, which cannot always be avoided. Positivists view official statistics as a potentially valuable source of quantitative data; however they do recognise that statistics have several faults. They generally agree that statistics can provide measures of behaviour that can be used to investigate possible 'cause and effect' relationships. However Interpretivists, in particular ethnomethodologists and phenomethodologists, reject the use of official statistics for measuring or determining certain behaviour of which they refer to....
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