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Lies, Damned Lies and Bimodal Distribution

Posted in Editorials on March 15th, 2011

One of the most maddening expressions in common use is “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Statistics can be used to mislead people, but that doesn’t make them automatically invalid. In part I’m defensive because I did better in statistics than any other mathematics classes I ever took and because it’s the type of math that I really grok. But also because I am at a loss for how to respond to arguments that are inherently anti-intellectual. Statistical significance is not terribly difficult of a concept to grasp. That the general public can’t is maddening.

That being said, I find this graphic very interesting. It’s from the New York Times, and I found it on Sociological Images.

It’s kind of counter intuitive that women and Hispanics could be both the happiest and saddest people in the country. But, off the cuff, I have a few hypotheses for why this might be:

-Women smile more because they both get more rewards for it and more social derision if they don’t smile.
-Previous studies report that Latin@s have stronger ties to their families than people from other ethnic groups. This could result in an increase in happiness.
-Women and people of color are more likely to experience discrimination and poverty – accounting for higher rates of unhappiness.

The picture this data creates would be very easy to distort. Simply ignoring one half or the other would create an incomplete picture that could lead to false conclusions. And that might be the closest to a “damned lie” you cold tell with this set of data.

Finally, something I think that’s very interesting is that single people report similar levels of happiness to married people. This lends support to the idea that an increase in the age of marriage over the past century is a good thing. The people who are unhappiest are the ones who have had to end a marriage or who are in the process of doing so.

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One Response to “Lies, Damned Lies and Bimodal Distribution”

  1. Ebonmuse Says:

    I would guess that the reason women and Hispanics have the highest reported rates of public displays of both happiness and sadness has to do with the social and cultural acceptability of openly displaying emotion; the way it’s more accepted and expected in some genders and ethnic groups than it is in others.

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