Secondary Sources: Statistics

Sociologists often need to use official statistics in their research. The word "official" is used because they come from the Government or its agencies. They are used by sociologists for various purposes including public information and government performance.
They have advantages, including:

  • They are easily available
  • They are often the only data available on the issue
  • Their regularity allows comparison and contrast over months and years
There are disadvantages, including:

  • Government and the apparatus of the State collects statistics for its reasons, and this influences:
    • Why they are collected
    • How they are collected
    • For whom they are collected
    • The purposes for which they are collected
  • Although statistics intend to be "value free" and objective, they result from interactions between various social groups and their motives and meanings
  • Crime figures come from public reporting, suspects, police and courts
  • Unemployment figures come from various definitions of economic inactivity and benefit payments
Therefore statistical data that should be reliable in one topic area often vary between one collection for presentation and another.

Using this and other information, evaluate the usefulness of official statistics as a source of data for sociologists.


Adrian Worsfold