Describing, Clarifying and Presenting Data
2. Characteristic, Variable and Measurement
In Module 1, a variable was defined as the measurement of a certain
characteristic that varies between members/units of a population.
Understanding the relationship between characteristic and variable
is important for you to understand how good the data are. Consider,
for example, a newspaper article on child poverty in which the heading
claims, ‘Our children are fifth poorest’
. One of your first questions
should be: “How is ‘child poverty’ defined for
these data?” From the information available in the article,
it seems to you as though the definition of poverty
was based on the variable of parental wages. This
would seem to indicate that no attempt was made to measure cost
of living outside of wages as an indicator of child poverty. What
about other important variables, like the availability of resources
such as telephone access and availability of transport? Should such
variables have been considered in the assessment of child poverty?
Can income alone be considered a good variable for measuring child
Thinking critically about how a characteristic is defined
and measured by a variable is an important step towards
becoming statistically literate. Let’s begin by looking closely
at the relationship between characteristic and variable.
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