more damned lies

The BBC website reports that the Office for National Statistics has released figures describing the average man and woman in Britain today.

Statistics reveal Britain's 'Mr and Mrs Average'

The bit that really bothers me is this:

The average British man is 38, will live another 41 years and is educated at least to A-levels.
The figures […] show the average British woman is two years older and will live to 72.


Back when I first became aware of the idea of life expectancy, it was said that women would, on average, outlive men. (Which made it doubly unfair that we should start to claim our pensions so much sooner then they did.) That’s not so very many years ago, so, how, in such a short time, has a woman’s life expectancy dropped, and a man’s risen so much that he can now expect to outlive her by several years?

Of course I didn’t believe it, so I looked elsewhere. In the Telegraph, they tell a different story:

Mr and Mrs Average revealed

The average British man is 38 years old, has 41 years left to live and has completed A-levels, while the typical woman is aged 40, will live for another 42 years and is educated up to GCSE A*-C level.

I definately prefer those figures, and perhaps I’ll decide to start reading the Torygraph if it offers a more positive view of things than the BBC.

Beyond the fact that, whether male or female, whoever wrote (and subbed) that story appears to have less than an average education in maths and general knowledge, there is some juggling we can do with the BBC figures and phrasing, which I think is rather fun.

I said a man can expect to outlive a woman “by several years”. But just how many are several?

  • The average man is 38 and will live another 41 years.
  • The average woman is 40 and will live until she’s 72 – that’s another 32 years.
  • Logically, then, the average man will live nine years longer than the average woman.

And yet:

  • The average man will live until he’s 79.
  • The average woman will live until she’s 72.
  • The average man will live seven years longer than the average woman.

Since we are working from the same basic premise in each case, I seem to have just demonstrated that nine is the same as seven.

I always knew you could prove anything with stats – and perhaps more so if you quote them wrongly in the first place.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

4 thoughts on “more damned lies”

  1. Scientists – proper ones who wear bushy beards, thick glasses and white coats with top pockets full of coloured pens – have proved that ladies’ brains often explode if they try to do difficult sums, so beware!

    Btw, The Daily Wail is more of a ladies’ paper than the Torygraph.

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    1. In my day, they were known as ‘hard sums’ or ‘problems’. That’s back when our homework was taken from a book called Train and Test.
      I remember wondering what the railways had to do with maths, though I probably decided it was all about: Train A leaving a station at such and such a time and heading due East at 60 miles an hour…
      (Back then, in the days when there were only five continents, I’m pretty sure we also capitalised the cardinal points.)

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  2. “while the typical woman is aged 40, will live for another 42 years”

    So…the average woman will live until she’s 82, surely.

    That puts the female average to 3 years more than man, which is around the average I remember it at. (4 years)

    The reduction in the average age may be due to the increased serious of arrests for binge-drinking (In some cities up 1000%) and violent crime.

    But don’t read the Daily Fail.

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    1. “So…the average woman will live until she’s 82, surely.”
      Duh. Yes. (And don’t call me ‘Shirley’.)

      The Torygraph assumed their readers could do simple sums themselves, while whoever wrote the original BBC story tried to be more imaginative with the phrasing, did the sum for us and got it wrong. (it’s been corrected today, but was as in the screenshot for many hours.)

      I think, therefore, that you’re trying to justify a reduction in the average life expectancy that only exists in the theoretical world of the original story. If there really were a drop in life expectancy, that’d surely be the headline.

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