There is a debate regarding the uses and value of statistical methods in social science, especially in political science, with some statisticians questioning practices such as data dredging that can lead to unreliable policy conclusions of political partisans who overestimate the interpretive power that non-robust statistical methods such as simple and multiple linear regression allow.
Indeed, an important axiom that social scientists cite, but often forget, is that " correlation does not imply causation. But where men suffer adverse statistical indicators such as greater imprisonment rates or a higher suicide rate, that is not usually accepted as evidence of gender bias acting against them.
The use of statistics has become so widespread in the social sciences that many universities such as Harvard , have developed institutes focusing on "quantitative social science. However, some experts in causality feel that these claims of causal statistics are overstated,  . From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.
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Social statistics at Wikipedia's sister projects. Outline Index. Descriptive statistics. Before that, a more detailed discussion of types of indicators and their measurement and organization into accounting systems is necessary. Criterion Indicators.
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On the basis of the premise that social indicators should relate directly to social policymaking considerations, an early definition by the economist Mancur Olson, the principal author of Toward a Social Report , characterized a social indicator as a "statistic of direct normative interest which facilitates concise, comprehensive and balanced judgments about the condition of major aspects of a society" U.
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare , p. Olson stated that such an indicator is in all cases a direct measure of welfare and is subject to the interpretation that if it changes in the "right" direction while other things remain equal, things have gotten better or people are better off.
Accordingly, by this definition, statistics on the number of doctors or police officers could not be social indicators, whereas figures on health or crime rates could be.
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In the language of policy analysis Fox , pp. This use of social indicators requires Land , p. In recognition of the fact that other meanings have been attached to the term "social indicators," the tendency among recent authors is to use a somewhat different terminology for the class of indicators identified by Olson. For instance, Land , p.
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Another class of social indicators has its roots in the work of Campbell and Converse in the early s. In The Human Meaning of Social Change , they argued that the direct monitoring of key social-psychological states attitudes, expectations, feelings, aspirations, and values in the population is necessary for an understanding of social change and the quality of life.
In this approach, social indicators are used to measure psychological satisfaction, happiness, and life fulfillment by employing survey research instruments that ascertain the subjective reality in which people live. The result may be termed "life satisfaction," "subjective well-being," or "happiness indicators. The Campbell-Converse approach led to two major methodological studies in the s Andrews and Withey ; Campbell et al. These studies examine domains ranging from the highly specific house, family, etc.
A large number of other studies and applications of these concepts and techniques have appeared over the past three decades for reviews, see Diener ; Diener et al. Smith; and Veenhoven and continue to appear; one or more studies of subjective well-being indicators can be found in almost every issue of Social Indicators Research. Research on the related concept of happiness as an index of well-being was surveyed by Veenhoven The principle that the link between objective conditions and subjective well-being defined in terms of responses to sample survey or interview questions about happiness or satisfaction with life as a whole is sometimes paradoxical; therefore, the idea that subjective as well objective states should be monitored is well established in the social indicators literature.
However, numerous studies of the measurement and psychodynamics of subjective well-being over the last three decades have led to a better understanding of this construct Cummins , While research continues and the debates have not been settled, it appears that this construct may have both traitlike i. The connection of subjective well-being to income levels has been an intriguing problem for social indicators researchers since Easterlin's finding that income differences between nations predict national differences in happiness but that the association of happiness with income within countries is much weaker for a review of this research literature, see Ahuvia and Friedman However, Davis's finding of a positive relationship between "new money" or recent income changes and happiness has been replicated by Saris , using data from a panel study conducted in Russia in the period — Descriptive Social Indicators.
Building on Ogburn's legacy of research on social trends, a third approach to social indicators focuses on social measurements and analyses designed to improve the understanding of what the main features of society are, how they interrelate, and how these features and their relationships change Sheldon and Parke , p. This produces descriptive social indictors —indices of the state of society and the changes taking place within it.
Although descriptive social indicators may be more or less directly causally related to the well-being goals of public policies or programs and thus include policy or criterion indicators, they are not limited to such uses. For instance, in the area of health, descriptive indicators may include preventive indicators such as the percentage of the population that does not smoke cigarettes as well as criterion indicators such as the number of days of activity limitations in the past month and an index of self-reported satisfaction with health.
Ferriss published a compilation of descriptive indicators for the United States at the end of the s; regularly published national social indicator compilations for other nations also contain numerous examples. The various statistical forms descriptive social indicators can take are described by Land , p. These forms can be ordered by degree of abstraction from those which require only one or two data series and little processing e. Descriptive social indicators can be formulated at any of these levels of abstraction.
Moreover, as described in Juster and Land , these indicators can, at least in principle, be organized into demographic- or time-budget-based systems of social accounts. The social indicators movement was motivated by the principle that it is important to monitor changes over time in a broad range of social phenomena that extend beyond the traditional economic indicators and include indicators of quality of life Andrews , p. Many organized actors in contemporary society—including government agencies, organizations and activists interested in social change programs, scholars, and marketing researchers interested in market development and product innovations—monitor indicators in which they have a vested interest and want to see increase or decline Ferriss , p.
A second principle that has been part of the social indicators movement from the outset Biderman ; Land is that a critically important role of social indicators in contemporary democratic societies is public enlightenment through social reporting.
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In brief, modern democracies require social reporting to describe social trends, explain why an indicator series behaves as it does and how this knowledge affects interpretation, and highlight important relationships among series Parke and Seidman , p. It also is important to document the consequences that are reasonably attributable to changes in a series. The area of projection or forecasting is filled with uncertainties.
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Techniques range from the naive extrapolation of recent trends to future scenario construction to complicated model building with regression, time series, or stochastic process techniques. Moreover, there appear to be intrinsic limits to the accuracy of forecasts in large-scale natural and social systems Land and Schneider However, demands for the anticipation of the future at a minimum, a description of "what will happen if present trends continue" , foresight and forward thinking in the public and private sectors, and the assessment of critical trends Gore appear to be an intrinsic part of contemporary postindustrial societies.
Thus, it is prudent to expect that "anticipation" will become an increasingly important part of the enlightenment function of social indicators. Social Reporting at the Turn of the Century. However, the key ideas of monitoring, reporting, and forecasting were evident to a greater or lesser extent in the production of continuing periodic subject-matter-specific publications by various federal agencies, including Science Indicators published by the National Science Foundation , The Condition of Education published by the Department of Education , the Report to the Nation on Crime and Justice published by the Department of Justice , and numerous Census Bureau publications.
Special topics involving groups of federal agencies also receive attention from time to time. In addition, numerous private research organizations, policy institutes, and scholars continue to produce reports, monographs, and books interpreting social trends and developments in several areas of social concern. In contrast to the situation in the United States, comprehensive social reports and social indicators compendiums continue to be published periodically in several other countries. The difference between the organization of social indicators and reporting work in the United States and that in other countries is in part attributable to the lack of a central statistical office responsible for the coordination of all government statistical activities in the United States.
More generally, it is indicative of the fact that despite the invention of the ideas of social indicators and comprehensive social reporting in the United States, this nation has lagged in their institutionalization Johnston Whether a new round of legislative efforts e. Perhaps marking a turning point and indicative of things to come is Public Law , enacted April 28, , which requires an annual education indicators report to the president and Congress. Quality of Life as a Unifying Concept. Another development became vividly apparent in the s Land : the widespread political, popular, and theoretical appeal of the "quality-of-life" QOL concept.
As was noted above, this concept emerged and became part of the social indicators movement in the late s and early s as doubts were raised in highly developed Western industrial societies about economic growth as the major goal of societal progress Noll and Zapf , pp. The "social costs" of economic growth were cited, and there was increasing doubt about whether "more" should be equated with "better.
As a goal of social and economic policy, QOL encompasses all or at least many domains of life and subsumes, in addition to individual material and immaterial well-being, collective values such as freedom, justice, and the guarantee of natural conditions of life for present and future generations. The political use of the idea of QOL is paralleled in the private sector by the widespread use and popularity of numerous rankings—based on weighted scales of multiple domains of well-being—of the "best" places to live, work, do business, play, and so on, whether they are cities, states, regions, or nations.
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