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January 7, 2015 / C H Thompson

Official statistics

A popular source of secondary data for sociologists is the large amount of official statistics collected by national and local government for example births, death and marriage data as well as education data and crime data.

Advantages of official statistics

  • they’re relatively easy and inexpensive to access
  • they’re readily available
  • they’re often the only source of data on a topic area
  • as they’re so comprehensive they’re more likely to be representative
  • they’re more likely to cover a long time span (crime figures and education data) and so it’s easier to see the influence of government policies ‘before and after’

Disadvantages of official data

  • as official data isn’t collect by sociologists problems are likely in the recording and accuracy of the data, for example the British Crime Survey exists to overcome the ‘dark-figures’ of unrecorded crime
  • some of these ‘dark figures’ come from policemen having to interpret a situation as being criminal or not. This shows how official data might not be as objective as expected
  • officials recording data are doing so for administrate reasons and so they’re not using terms and classifications used by sociological researchers
  • official figures are sometimes ‘massaged’ by the state to avoid embarrassing the government of the day for example hospital waiting times

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