Sunday, July 22, 2012

Another ridiculous misunderstanding (and resultant misuse) of statistics: Move Over Men: Women are Now the Primary Breadwinners

We (by which I mean "I") are always on the lookout for interesting societal trends, especially those that go against historical or traditional patterns.  For example, it's clear that women are playing more of a leading role in household finances.  In over 20% of two-earner households, I had heard, the woman earned more than her male partner, whether due to higher rates of male unemployment, educational and professional parity, or other reasons.  It would seem logical that the figure would increase over time.

Therefore, when I saw a headline, "Move Over Men: Women are Now the Primary Breadwinners," I thought that that seemed to be a rather quick demographic shift - from mid-20% to over 50%.  Intrigued, I decided to take a look.

The details in the story initially seems to prove out the headline: "53% of the ... women surveyed are primary breadwinners."  Since 53% is more than half (duh!), the designation "primary breadwinners" seemed justified.

Of course, one of the rules of understanding something that you are reading is: Keep Reading.  The stated reasons for this phenomenon were: "partners who lost jobs during the financial crisis, divorce and women deciding to marry later on in life."

What this implies is: Women are in the primary breadwinners in households in which there MAY OR MAY NOT be another breadwinner!  

The article itself bears this out: it cites a statistic that "22% of women who are married our living with a partner report being the one who makes the most money." (Gee, didn't I already say that earlier?) 

If a sample (made up entirely to substantiate my own argument) consisted of 100 couples, of whom 22 women were the primary breadwinner, and as few as 60 women who are the sole adult in a household (single, divorced, widowed, etc.), then you would have 82 women as the primary breadwinners in a sample of 160 households.  Ergo, 51.2% of the households are the primary breadwinners.  While this would certainly indicate that women could benefit from education in personal finance (as could men!), this hardly justifies the headline.

Call me churlish (I already did), but why obscure a meaningful and useful message with a misleading headline.  Oh, right, to get attention - it got mine!