On 22 June 2018, RSS William Guy lecturer, Jeff Ralph, presented a talk on 'Teenagers and society: How statistics reveal the changes in young people’s lives through the last century' at a Year 9 South West Mathematics Masterclass Event taking place at the University of Plymouth. The audience included about 150 pupils from schools across Devon and Cornwall.
Jeff used official statistics to illustrate just how much many aspects of life have changed over the last hundred years. He started by presenting the top five baby names from 2005 for boys and girls and showed how the most popular names have changed since 1900. Using the percentages of boys and girls being born with those top names for the whole population, Jeff produced a good approximation of the number of students in the room with these names, showing that the sample of students in the room provided a good representation of the population as a whole.
Moving on to university education, Jeff showed the number of degrees awarded in the years 1920 to 2011 as a table; the pupils suggested that a graph would be easier to look at. When Jeff showed the data graphically it was much easier to see the changes through the years and this enabled him to explain that an important part of statistics is to investigate the reasons behind changes. For instance, increases in university degrees awarded in the 1940s was due to the government encouraging service men and women coming back from the war to study. A dramatic increase occurred in 1992 when polytechnics were given university status.
Household income and poverty were then discussed using a series of graphs. Jeff questioned whether the mean, median or mode should be used when summarising household income, explaining that he would choose the median due to the skewed nature of the distribution of incomes. Deprivation was measured using a combination of crime, poverty, health and disabilities measured across small regions of each country in the UK. A visualisation of the levels of deprivation was made using a map with darker colours indicating the more deprived areas. Jeff explained how this is a key way of seeing which areas need more government funding for example through schemes such as sure-start and children’s centres.
The last example Jeff used was the dramatic increase in life expectancy at birth since 1841. This was attributed to events such as the introduction of vaccines, the creation of the NHS and continued improvements in later life.
Jeff finished by noting that we now live in a data rich world where new analytical techniques are needed, with advanced computing techniques, to analyse the size and complexity of the data now available. This, he said, is reflected in the growing importance of statistics in many disciplines from mathematics and economics to biology and social science, and the consequent current and future large need for statisticians and data scientists.