How many teens are on antidepressants?

A recent survey found that 1/3rd of teens have been prescribed anti-depressants, but this is probably a result of sampling bias.

One in three teenagers are on antidepressants according to a recent iNews article published in August 2022.

You can read the full article here: One in three teens on antidepressants as lack of mental health services puts pressure on GPs to help.

Now it may well be tough being a teenager these days, especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic, but this figure does sound alarmingly high!

And I’m not the only one who thinks so, and in fact this statistic may not even be accurate according to some deeper research and analysis by Nathan Gower on behalf of Radio 4’s More or Less show.

The figure above comes from a survey conduct in July 2022 by a charity called Stem4 which supports teenage mental health.

This was a broad ranging survey looking at teenagers mental health and well-being overall based on a ‘general national sample’ of 2007 teenagers and the question which yielded the results which lead to the headlines above was:

“Have you been prescribed antidepressants to treat depression or other mental health conditions.”

37% of 12 to 18 year old respondents reported that they had been prescribed antidepressants at some point in their life, which is where the one in three figure above comes from.

NB Stem4 was asked to add that question to their survey by Good Morning Britain and then they teamed up and had a great time discussing (uncritically of course) the findings…

Official Statistics on Antidepressant Prescriptions

The problem with above survey findings is that official statistics show VERY different proportions.

Dr Ruth Jack a Senior Fellow in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham who has also conducted research on the prescription rates of antidepressants to teenagers in England (rather than the whole of the U.K.).

Her methodology involved looking at hundreds of thousands of medical records from G.P.s in England up to 2017, and her findings are very different to those of the survey results above.

12-18 year olds in 2017 – 2.3% were ever prescribed an anti-depressant.

That 2.3% should cover most prescriptions because although specialist mental health practices and hospitals can also prescribe antidepressants to teenagers, most prescriptions revert back to G.P.s

Another alternative source we can use is from NHS in England which publishes data on how many patients are prescribed antidepressants in a year. NHS England uses different age groupings but the findings are similar to Doctor Jack’s – in the low single digit percentages.

So both of the above pieces of research which are based on the official NHS statistics and Doctors’ records show much lower figures than the survey conducted by Stem 4.

There is a MASSIVE difference: 37% of 12-18 year olds from one survey compared to 2.3% according to the Doctors’ own records, that is more than 10 times the difference according to Stem4’s survey based on the self-reporting of the teenagers themselves.

Stem4’s survey reports that there are higher rates of prescription among younger teenagers compared to older teenagers. However both the NHS data and Doctor Jacks’ research show the opposite: lower rates for younger teens and then higher rates for older teens – with the prescription numbers getting significantly higher for 16 years and older.

Explaining the differences

The Survey data is from 2022 while Dr Jack’s data only goes up 2017, so it could be that the antidepressant prescription rate for teenagers has increased radically during the Pandemic, but this would mean there has been a HUGE 20 fold increase!

But this massive recent increase is unlikely the NHS data we have runs up to 2021 which suggests such that prescriptions did rise by about 10% during Covid, but not 20 times!

When interviewed by More or Less the CEO of Stem4 says that the objective of their survey was to hear the voices of young people by giving them an opportunity to express themselves and they saw no reason to hold back these findings which tell us what young people feel even if they are very different to the official statistics.

To support her survey findings she cites a a Freedom of Information request which was released in August 2021 suggested that GP prescriptions for those aged 5 to 12 had increased 40% between 2015 to 2021.

The More or Less Interviewer seemed to be trying to invite her to confess that her findings were completely invalid but she wasn’t backing down, suggesting that the rates of teen prescriptions were probably half way between her data and the official data.

However it was also clear that the data scientists from More or Less were having none of this – it simply isn’t possible that one third of teens have ever been on prescription anti-depressants, the official numbers just don’t add up.

Credible Data versus Eye Catching, Distorted Data

Dr Jack’s data and the NHS data are valid and reliable results which accurately reflect the underlying reality and give us the actual rate at which teenagers are prescribed medication, and this data can help us tackle the problems of teenage mental ill health.

Stem4’S research is an invalid data set which has produced a distorted picture of reality in order to make an eye catching headline and bring people’s attention to Stem4 and the mental health support services they offer.

Explaining Stem4’s Misleading Survey Results

The first thing to note is that Stem4’s research is probably telling us something different to the NHS data – the former is asking ‘have you ever been prescribed’ while NHS data is current prescriptions.

So if it’s a different 2.3% every year then over 7 years (12-18) we get to around 15%.

But this is still a way off the reported 35%.

Personally I think that Sample Bias probably explains the rest of the difference.

Stem4’s own report on the survey results tells us that they used a company called SurveyGoo to conduct the research, and SurveyGoo specialised in Online Surveys.

There is a chance that in the marketing of the survey it would have been more appealing to those teenagers who have had mental health problems in the past.

Say that SurveyGoo has 10K teens in its panel and the survey goes out to all of them – a higher proportion of teens who have had depression would be interested in answering it compared to those teens who hadn’t had depression.

The problem here is that we can’t go back easily and check the data as it’s not freely available for public consultation.

Biased Research…?

There is an even darker side to this. This could be a case of deliberately misleading statistics being publicised for commercial gain.

The question above was asked by Good Morning Britain which is a sensationalist Tabloid Media show which wants eyes, and this is an eye catching headline, so what do they care about a possible biased sample.

And the same goes for Stem4 – they make their money selling mental health and wellbeing packages to schools and other institutions – it is in their interests to exaggerate the extent of teen depression and especially ‘prescription abuse’ because they are offering earlier intervention strategies, for a cost of course!

SignPosting and Related Posts

This should be of interest for the research studies module.

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Socialisation

Socialisation is the process whereby an individual learns the norms and values of a culture.

Giddens and Sutton (2017) provide a lengthier definition:

For sociologists socialization is the process whereby the helpless human infant becomes a self-aware, knowledgeable person, skilled in the ways of the culture into which he or she was born. Socialization of the young allows for more general phenomenon of social reproduction – the process through which societies achieve structural continuity overtime.

Agencies of socialisation

Agencies of socialisation refer to groups, social contexts or institutions in which socialisation takes place. The main agencies of socialisation include:

  • The family
  • Friendship and peer groups
  • School (education)
  • Social Media circles
  • The mass media
  • Any voluntary groups or clubs people might be a part of
  • Religion (for those who are religious!)
  • The workplace

In post-industrial societies socialisation is a complex process involving hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of micro-interactions on a day to day basis within the context wider power relations – such as school, work, social media, and economic and political ‘structures’.

Social interactions over the life course within all of these contexts help individuals learn the specific norms of each context and the more general norms which make up their broader culture.

Socialisation isn’t just a passive process in which individuals ‘soak up’ and passively accept already existing norms and values… individuals have the capacity to reflect on the culture presented to them and change the way other people think, feel and act and thus have the capacity to change culture through the socialisation process.

Of course different individuals have different levels of desire and ability to change the culture into which they are socialised. As a general rule children have less ability to enact change compared to adults, while adults with more money, status and visibility have more power to change cultures than others.

For the most part, individuals accept most of the basic norms into which they are socialised – such as language, dress codes in the broader sense (i.e. actually wearing some clothes), being generally polite to people, not being violent, and the concept of working for a living.

However it also true that many people will go through a rebellious phase at certain times of their lives – the most well known of these include toddlers having tantrums and teenagers rebelling, but for the most part most people end up accepting and abiding by most of our already existing norms and values.

There are a minority of individuals for whom the socialisation process is one of rejecting the culture with which they are presented, and for these people socialisation may not be a smooth process – if a child rejects school rules for example they are handed out punishments, maybe even excluded permanently; if someone rejects the social norm of ‘having to work for a living’ they may end up unemployed and living on the streets.

As a final word on this topic individuals who reject ‘mainstream culture’ often go on to form subcultures – of which there are many in postmodern society – everything from Gay Pride to prison gangs and from Goths to Furries can be regarded as forms of subculture – the existence of which offers people who don’t feel a connection with mainstream agencies (such as education or work) a chance to belong to something they actually identify with.

For further information on this you might like to explore the culture of identity further and the relevant posts under the Crime and Deviance section.

Primary socialisation

Sociologists typically distinguish between two broad phases of socialisation: Primary Socialisation and Secondary Socialisation.

Primary socialisation occurs in infancy and childhood and is the most intense phase of learning.

This first phases of socialisation primarily takes place within the family and it is when the child learns the most fundamental norms of their culture such as language, basic manners, and where they start to learn gender.

In the United Kingdom today most children spend most of their early childhoods (pre-school age) in their family domestic unit with their parents and siblings being the main influencers on their socialisation, but there is considerable variation in family structures today – most children are socialised in nuclear families, but a significant minority are socialised in single parent or reconstituted families.

There is also a lot of global variation – in many cultures around the world grandparents, uncles and aunts continue to play a significant role in the primary socialisation of children.

Secondary Socialisation

There is no clear moment when primary socialisation begins and secondary socialisation starts, but the three main agencies associated with the later are education, peer groups, the media, and work.

Education or school

In developed societies with well established education systems children spend at least 30 hours a week (during term time) at school from the age of five where their interactions are highly regulated by the school environment.

School may well be where children are introduced to formal collective rules for the first time – such as uniforms, timetables and codes of conducts.

Thus in terms of time spent during later childhood, school is certainly a main agency of secondary socialisation, especially once we factor in how the school day and week can be extended by journeys to and from school, after school clubs and homework.

Peer Groups

Most children have friendship groups from a young age, typically children who live locally, children of their parent’s friends or siblings.

It is difficult to assess the important of friends in the socialisation process, but friendship is usually one of the most important aspects in the life of individuals and shouldn’t be underestimate – people increasingly report their friends as being ‘ their family’ for example.

When a child gets to school their peer group will typically extend massively such that a child has to start to learn to ‘get on’ with larger groups most of whom they won’t have intimate relationships with, essential to get on in larger societies.

The Media

Simply in terms of time spent online, the media increasingly becomes an important agency of secondary socialisation as children get older.

Historical sociological perspectives such as The Hypodermic Syringe Model saw the media as having a direct and largely negative influence on children – teaching them to be passive consumers in a capitalist society for example, and children were seen as passive receptors.

However, it is clear today that children are much more active users of a diverse array of mainstream and social media and there is much more interaction going on and a massive diversity of experience, such that it is incredibly difficult to make generalisations about the experience of socialisation via the media.

The workplace and other institutions

Secondary socialisation continues all through adult life – getting one’s first and then subsequent jobs will usually require an individual to not only learn the new formal requirements of the job role but also the more informal norms of the working culture.

Socialisation within Sociology

Socialisation is one the major concepts within sociology, and in my experience you will usually find the concept explored in three main areas:

  • Firstly in the introductory sections of text books, it is fundamental!
  • Secondly in social theory – conceptions have changed as social theory has ‘evolved’ from Functionalism through to Social Interactionism for example
  • Thirdly in the ‘life course’ – which may have links to Child Development – Giddens and Sutton (2017) do it this way.
  • Finally as part of Crime and Deviance – socialisation being a part of social control. Abercrombie (2005) does this.

SignPosting

This post was primarily written for A-level sociology students studying the Culture and Identity option within A-level Sociology.

You might also like my introductory post on culture, socialisation and social norms.

NB – I use the correct spelling of socialisation in the title of this post and anywhere I haven’t quoted sociologists who use the incorrect American spelling.

Interestingly I doubt very much that Giddens, being English, would spell ‘socialisation’ with a Z in the middle, it’s most likely that the editors have modified this to fit in with a global American audience.

Sources

(1) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Sociology, Polity Press.

(2) Abercrombie (2005) Sociology, Polity.

Why Did Liz Truss’ Budget do so Much Damage…?

The Tory U-turn on its disastrous tax-cutting mini budget demonstrates how little power the British government has in relation to the forces of economic globalisation

Liz Truss and then then chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced a mini-budget on September 23rd 2022 which outlined tens of billions of pounds of tax cuts:

  • corporation tax was to be cut from 25% to 19%
  • the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 19%,
  • while the top 45% rate of income tax was also to be slashed for the extreme minority of higher income earners. 

At the same time the budget also committed the government to an increasing in spending to fund the energy-price cap which also ran into several billions of pounds annually for two years.

This package of tax cuts amounted to a planned reduction in government income of £45 billion, and the budget included no mention of how this shortfall was to be funded.

The extreme negative market reaction to Truss’ Mini-budget

The financial markets reacted immediately and violently to the Tory mini-budget with the interest rates on government bonds increasing rapidly.

For example, the 30 year bond rate increased from 4% to 5% – this is the amount of interest the UK government pays on its debt, meaning the UK government would have to pay a lot more going forwards.

The value of the pound also fell relative to the dollar and other currencies meaning it would be more expensive for businesses and individuals to buy imports.

What are government bonds?

Bonds are government backed loans – the government issues bonds when it wants to raise money to pay for various investments – and they promise to pay interest to whoever buys these bonds.

Bonds range from short term (3 years) to the very long term – over 60 years and the interest rates on bonds vary according to primarily three factors:

  • national interest rates – higher interest rates = higher interest payments (obviously!)
  • inflation – higher inflation is correlated with higher interest rates so the same pattern as above
  • a country’s credit rating – if a country is deemed to be at a higher risk of defaulting on its bonds, its credit rating drops and the interest payments go up.

The total value of UK government bonds, (in other words UK government debt) is at time of writing in October 2022 $2.6 trillion. (Also see source 1 below, for the latest UK Government data)

And huge debt also means huge annual interest payments, and so when bond rates increased by even just 1% as a result of the tragic Tory mini-budget, this means the UK government has to find tens of billions more every year just to service the interest on that debt, and this means less of our tax money going on public services.

The extent of government debt and why the Tory mini budget was so harmful

Even before the tragic mini-budget announcement Britain’s annual deficit stood at 2.3% of Britain’s GDP (according to latest government figures that’s £2.3 trillion) and so Britain was already spending approximately £50 more EVERY YEAR than it was bringing in in tax receipts.  

The Tory mini-budget increase that deficit by around another £50 billion, meaning the total annual deficit would have been £100 billion, EVERY YEAR and the budget laid out no specific information about where that extra £100 billion was going to come from.  

These policies would have had the further effect of feeding inflation, which had already been creeping up, and increasing interest rates which would have increased the cost of government borrowing while at the same time undermining the capacity of the government to pay the yield (interest rate) on its bonds.

Essentially the markets (i.e. the pension funds, countries and other companies who held UK Bonds (or debt)) looked at the Tory’s economic plan and said ‘there’s no way this is sustainable – you’re committing to running a national deficit of £100 billion a year with no indication of how you’re going to pay for it, which means you’re going to be less likely to pay back our debt, or the interest on our bonds’.

These policies which have since been reversed in a U-turn only two weeks after they were first announced (which completely undermines Liz Truss’ credibility as a leader and neoliberal economics more generally)

The Tory U-Turn

Shortly after the original mini-budget Liz Truss sacked her chancellor and appointed Jeremy Hunt in his place.

On Monday 19th of October, less than one month after the announcement of the original mini budget, Jeremy Hunt announced the scrapping of nearly all the measures outlined in that original budget, in what was the biggest U-turn in British economic history.

As it stands there will be no tax cuts after all and the energy price cap guarantee will only hold until April 2023, rather than a year after that as had been the case in the original disaster budget.

Relevance to A-level sociology

In my experience most A-level sociology students have very little understanding of economics, but personally I think every student needs at least a basic level of understanding of national economics, taxation, public spending, the sheer scale of national debt, interest rates and inflation.

Without an understanding of these basic economic concepts students are missing out on a deeper understanding of how economic structures and the ‘macro’ picture affect social life at a more personal level.

This material is most relevant to the Global Development module to illustrate how important economic globalisation is!

What this case study demonstrates is just how far the power of the British Government (and ANY government for that matter) has declined in relation to international bond markets and ratings agencies, because they are so massively in debt.

Britain owes so much money that it can now no longer do anything which undermines its capacity to repay that debt which is largely held by international financial corporations.

In this case the markets forced the UK to abandon its plans to cut taxes, and one might reasonably expect this means that the government would not be able to increase public spending either – because that would put a similar level of strain on the government’s capacity to pay back its enormous amount debt.

Interestingly one of the things Jeremy Hunt said in his ‘biggest U turn in political history’ speech was that….

“Governments can’t prevent market stability but they can manage the situation so that people don’t suffer – in terms of rising prices, mortgages and pensions”.

As a final word I also think maybe it illustrates the looming division between the old and the young… pension funds hold huge amounts of UK bonds and so these moves have been another strategy to protect the old while the young will pick up the costs again, as there are public spending cuts coming.

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What is Culture?

A simplified sociological definition of culture is ‘the whole way of life of a group of people’, which is abbreviated from Ralph Linton’s (1945) more extensive definition of the term:

‘The culture of a society is the way of life of its members; the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’.

Culture is usually contrasted to nature, with ‘culture’ referring to ‘all which is symbolic: the learned… aspects of human society’ (Jencks 1993) whereas ‘nature’ refers to everything that exists without human intervention.

According to Raymond Williams (1976) culture is one of the most complicated words in the English language, and in a deep exploration of the concept by Jencks (1993) identified four different ways in which the term culture is used in contemporary society….

Four uses of the word culture

Culture as a State of Mind

Possible usage: ‘She’s a very cultured individual’.

People sometimes describe particular individuals as ‘cultured’ as in ‘she’s a very cultured individual’.

This is an individualistic use of the word, which usually implies that ‘cultured individuals’ have more desirable traits to those who are not cultured.

Often this usage of the term refers to culture as ‘refined taste’ – the cultured individual is someone who has a knowledge of the arts and manners as is able to to distinguish themselves ‘above’ those without such tastes.

However it might also refer to an individual who has a lot of learned experience – someone who has familiarity with a lot of different cultures and has picked up a lot of skills and knowledge which enables them to function at a ‘higher level’ than most people – such as being very skilled technically or speaking many languages fluently.

Culture as Civilisation

This usage implies that some societies are more civilised than others and was a common usage among Westerners during the colonial era.

For example, the evolutionary thinker Herbert Spencer used the term ‘culture’ in this way – seeing Western societies as more ‘cultured’ than those in Africa and Asia; with the term ‘culture’ here being effectively a synonym for ‘civilisation’.

The common conception of the colonies by Europeans was that they were more ‘savage’ than the more civilised countries in Europe and thus inferior.

This of course was an entirely ethnocentric view, based largely on an inability of the colonialists to really ‘see’ the complex cultures which already existed in ‘their’ new territories.

As with the first usage this is an elitist concept.

Culture as a collective body of artistic work

This is a common sense usage of the term which you will often here in the mainstream media.

‘Culture’ in this sense is the arts – it is music, literature and theatre, for example, and is often seen as part of the domain of leisure rather than of work, and something which is done as a performance by ‘artists’ to be enjoyed by audiences.

The BBC Culture website – uses the word ‘culture’ in this way!

Culture as the way of Life of a People

This final usage is the more sociological definition of culture – referring to all of the learned habits, norms and traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next.

In this sense culture is everywhere in the social world and we find it in every social setting and institution – in schools, the workplace, politics, and more informally in leisure spaces, simply outside in the high street, on public transport, it’s everywhere.

It’s fair to say that it might be difficult to pinpoint a set of norms and values that everyone shares at the national level, although the idea of there being a distinct ‘British’ or ‘French’ culture still makes sense to most people.

However you need to be mindful that this is an extremely high level of generalisation which risks drifting into stereotyping!

Sources – Find out More!

Adapted from Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

Jencks, C (1993) Culture

Williams, R (1976) Developments in the Sociology of Culture

Linton, R (1945) The Cultural Background of Personality

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Four Types of Culture

Folk culture, mass or popular culture, high culture and low culture

Culture is one of the most complex terms in the English language. This post summarises four ways in which the term is most commonly used…

  • Folk culture
  • Mass or Popular culture
  • High culture
  • Low culture

Folk Culture

Folk culture refers to the every day practices of ordinary local peoples, often rooted in long-standing traditions dating back to the pre-industrial era.

Folk cultures are usually rooted in one specific place and unique to that place.

There are thousands of different folk cultures all over the world, which have emerged from the ordinary day to day lives of ordinary peoples and their practices have been passed down, often orally (through word of mouth) from generation to generation.

The term ‘folk culture’ is used to refer to both specific cultural practices and whole cultures, and examples include Morris dancing in England, folk singing such as Mongolian throat singing, Choctaw (Native American) story telling and the whole of the Amish culture is also referred to as a ‘folk culture’…

Morris Dancing in England – a form of folk culture

Folk culture is thus about lived experience and is usually locally based, in one place rather than global.

Folk cultures are usually seen as part of the authentic, lived experience of real people, although you will often see ‘mock versions’ of historical folk culture played out for the benefit of tourists, in which case many aspects of the original ‘folk culture’s may have been changed over the years to make them more entertaining (NB this has possibly happened with Morris Dancing!)

Popular Culture

Popular culture refers to cultural products manufactured by entrepreneurs and media companies in modern capitalist societies which are produced for mass consumption, the aim being to reach a wide audience typically with the aim of making a profit.

Popular culture products are thus not organic like folk cultures, they do not emerge out of day to day to interaction between ordinary people, rather they are produced by professionals with an instrumental purpose – to entertain and make money.

Examples of popular culture include television programmes (think of the most popular shows on Netflix), box-office films, pop music and popular literature (Harry Potter), and of course the more modern forms which combine several of these into one such as the X FACTOR…

A whole 45 minutes just on their X Factor journey!

Critics of popular culture tend to refer to it as ‘mass culture‘ – for the purposes of A-level sociology you can think of ‘mass culture’ as a derogatory term for ‘popular culture’.

Critics tend to see what they call ‘mass culture’ as being formulaic and simplistic, and very easy to watch lots of it – which has the affect of pacifying people by preventing them from engaging with more complex forms of high culture or more critical content – rather an endless stream of popular culture products keep people happy and stupid, like a king of modern day ‘opium of the masses’

High Culture

High Culture refers to cultural products which are perceived by some to be the pinnacle or creative achievement and thus to have a higher status in society.

Examples of ‘high culture’ include classical music, opera and ballet, classical literature and historical works of art and sculptures…

A performance of the Opera La Boheme – an example of high culture…?

Enjoyment of such works forms part of the identity of the political and economic elite of many European societies, and the elite who patronise these types of ‘high’ cultural products tend to see them as superior to other forms of leisure and culture which are more widely enjoyed by the masses.

This notion of elitism and superiority is an important aspect of High Culture – there is an idea that such cultural forms require a high level of skill to produce and thus are extremely rare, and that it requires a certain amount of refinement and distinction to enjoy them.

Indeed, ‘enjoyment’ is not sufficient to understand the norms which surround the ‘experience’ of ‘high culture’ – in fact ‘appreciation’ might be a more accurate word because to truly enjoy the works above requires an understanding which is usually learned through many years of experience…

Opera for example may well be in a foreign language, classical literature requires a high level of reading skill and music is better understood with a personal background of having learned a classic instrument yourself.

Thus part of the experience of high culture is very much about the elite distinguishing themselves from the non-elite.

NB organisations such as the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera house have been making attempts for many years to make opera and ballet more accessible to a wider range of people, so the boundaries between elite and popular culture may be becoming more blurred over time!

Low Culture

Low culture is a derogatory term used to refer to cultures which are seen as inferior or of low or no value.

For example the elite classes might refer to popular culture as ‘low culture’ to denote the fact that it is inferior to ‘high culture’ which they see as more refined , nuanced and/ or complex, requiring more learning and effort to fully appreciate, which thus makes it superior to the more accessible popular culture.

Historically, many folk cultures would have been viewed as ‘low cultures’ by colonialists and other agents of modernity who believed that the whole point of the modernist project was to use science and rationality to bring about social progress, effectively washing away inferior traditional cultures which were rooted in tradition and superstition .

Tasks and Find out More

You might like to visit the Royal Opera House website – have a click around the site and decide for yourself whether you think Opera is really an elite cultural form today.

SignPosting

This post should be useful for students studying the first year option in A-level Sociology Culture and Identity option (AQA)

Sources

Morris Dancing Picture – By Tim Green from Bradford – Morris Dancers, York, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51786023

La Boheme picture – https://www.metopera.org/season/2022-23-season/la-boheme/

This blog post was adapted from Chapman et al (2015) Sociology AQA A-level Year 1.

Bias in Presenting Quantitative Data

Newspapers can ‘bias’ the presentation of quantitative data by stretching out the scale of the data they present, making differences between bars seem larger than they actually are (or vice versa!).

Quantitative research methods are usually regarded as being more objective than qualitative research methods as there is less room for the subjective biases and interpretations of researchers to influence the data collection process in quantitative research.

However, bias can still creep into quantitative research and one way this can happen is over the decision in how to present the data in even a basic visualisation.

Specifically, one can take the same data and stretch out the scale of a graph displaying that data and give the impression that the differences between the subjects under investigation are wider than in the original presentation.

Bias in scaling graphs

A recent example of what I’m going to call ‘bias in scaling graphs‘ can be found in how an article by The Guardian displays recent data on how much GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has grown in different European Countries between 2019 to 2022.

the same data from the Office for National Statistics in a more ‘stretched out’ scale which

The Guardian article (September 2022) in question is this one: UK is only G7 country with smaller economy than before Covid-19 which displays the following graphical data to show how the UK’s GDP is falling compared to other G8 Nations.

Source: The Guardian, 2022

Now you might think ‘this is quantitative data so it’s objective’ and on that basis no one can argue with what it’s telling us – the U.S. economy is doing VERY WELL compared to most Euro nations, growing more than TWICE as fast is the impression we get.

And after all, this is fair enough – a 2.6% growth rate is more than twice as fast as a 1% or less growth rate!

Same data different scale…

However you might think differently about the above when you see the same data (almost) displayed by the UK Government in this publication: GDP International Comparisons: Key Economic Indicators which features the graph below:

Source: Commons Library 2022

Note that the data is ALMOST the same – except for Britain’s data being different at 0.6% positive rather than negative – the Guardian article was written after the UK Gov report on the basis of the UK Economic growth forecast being downgraded, but everything else is the same.

My point here is that the data above is (almost) the same and yet the graph has been ‘squashed’ compared to the graph showing the same data in The Guardian article – note the scaling is the same – if you look above you can see that the US Bar is twice as high as the EU bars, but the difference APPEARS smaller because it’s not as stretched.

The Guardian achieves its stretched out scale by displaying the bars horizontally rather than vertically – that way there is more room to stretch them out and make the differences appear larger in a visual sense.

And with the UK now in an economic downturn it makes Britain seem further behind compared to other countries than what would have been the case with the more squished presentation in the Government’s version.

But aren’t they both biased…?

In a word yes – someone has to decided the format in which to present the data which is going to skew what people see.

But the reason I’m calling out The Guardian on this is for two reasons:

  1. it’s unusual to display bars horizontally, the standard is vertically, but there’s not way you can stretch out the visualisation vertically without it looking very odd.
  2. The differences are quite small – we are talking 1-2% points of change so having a more squished scale to represent the small differences seems appropriate, The Guardian has chosen to exaggerate these from the original display possible to make them seem larger than they actually are.

Signposting and Related Posts

This material should be of interest to anyone studying Research Methods.

It’s also a useful example of Left Wing bias in the media, most sociologists focus on right wing bias!

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Feminism and Malestream Sociology

Some Feminists argue that early sociology was ‘malestream’ – meaning it was mainly focused on studying boys and men and theorising about women’s roles by Functionalists (for example) was itself patriarchal. This post explores whether sociology is still malestream today.

Malestream sociology is a term developed by Feminist theorists who argue that early sociology was dominated by men and thus produced a biased male-centred account of the social world.

According to Abbot Wallace and Tyler (2005) early sociological studies and theories variously ignore or distort (through a male lens) the experience of women and girls altogether; fail to acknowledge that women are subordinated to men; and fail to take account of the fact that women’s experience of this subordination is an important factor in explaining women’s experiences and positions in the social structure.

The material below should be useful to students studying the the theory part of the theory and methods module and is summarised from the book linked and pictured immediately above.

Five Feminist Criticisms of Malestream Sociology

Abbot, Wallace and Tyler (2005) identified five main criticisms of ‘malestream’ sociology which have been developed by Feminists.

Traditional sociology was mainly focused on studying boys and men in most fields of study.

Studies using all male samples have been generalised to all people, including women.

Areas of social life which have traditionally been part of the female-domain were neglected in early sociology – for example there were no sociological studies on housework or childcare until the early 1970s.

On the rare occasion when women were the focus of sociological studies they were often theorised about in stereotypical ways. For example Pollack, who studied female criminals argued that women tended to commit more ‘devious’ (hidden) crimes such as murdering by poison (which often went undetected) because they were used to faking orgasms from their partners which made them good at hiding crimes.

Abbot et al themselves suggest that early theorising about women’s roles by Functionalists was kind of ideological. For example, Parsons developed his social systems theory in which ‘every existing role had a function that contributed to the maintenance of the whole’ – and women’s role within the family was to be the care-givers and domestic labourers.

In the final point above, what Parsons (and Functionalists more generally) failed to consider was that their conception of women’s roles in society was itself part of a patriarchal world view which itself contributed to maintaining that patriarchy.

Feminising Sociology – Differential Progress

Abbot and Wallace accept the fact that sociology has become less malestream since the 1970s, but progress towards including the study of women and the inclusion of women in studying society has been variable, depending on the general topic areas.

Some topic areas have been more fully reconstructed from feminist perspectives – such as cultural sociology, and the sociology of the body, identity and sexuality.

In other areas ‘full reconstruction’ has not taken place but Feminism has made ‘significant progress’ – such as the sociology of the family and education.

And then there are some areas where Feminism has not made much of an impact such as social theory and the sociology of class and stratification.

Dealing with MaleStream Sociology

Feminists generally agree that something needs to be done to make sociology less male-dominated, but disagree over what strategies to adopt.

Some Feminists emphasis an ‘integration‘ approach – suggesting that Feminists need to simply fill in the gaps of existing research. However Abbot and Wallace reject this approach, arguing that any Feminist research that is ‘tagged on’ to existing malestream sociology will be marginalised. In short, this approach does nothing to tackle the subordination of women within sociology itself.

Separatism supports a ‘sociology for women by women’ which argues that women need to break away from malestream sociology and conduct their own research completely apart from established sociology. Abbot and Wallace are more sympathetic to this approach but suggest there is a risk that such a separate Feminist sociology would still end up being marginalised by the dominant malestream established sociology.

A third approach, suggested by Abbot and Wallace is that of ‘reconceptualisation‘ – in which existing sociological studies and theories are reworked to fully incorporate the experiences of women; and any future research is to be rejected unless it can explain the experiences of both men and women fully.

In this final approach, the idea is to embed Feminism into sociology such that the discipline can apply to all genders, not just men, and while difficult to achieve Abbot and Wallace believe that progress is possible.

Is Contemporary Sociology still Malestream in 2022?

Abbot and Wallace made the observations above in 2005, almost 20 years ago now, so you might like to think about the extent to which their observations are still true today.

Certainly in A-level Sociology text books if you read through the social theories sections, the vast majority of the theories are by men, but this might just be because these text books are themselves dated and contain limited material from after 2010 themselves!

Certainly there are sections on sex and gender inequalities within every major topic area, so gender issues are firmly embedded within the specification but I am not convinced they are dealt with as thoroughly as other areas.

One area that is severely lacking IMO is the broader study of sexuality, beyond just men and women but looking at the experiences of LGBTQ individuals.

This is an interesting question for A-level sociology students to consider as they progress through their studies.

Sources/ Find out More

This post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn(2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives 8th Edition.

Abbot Wallace and Tyler (2005) An Introduction to Sociology, Feminist Perspectives

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What is the Cost of Living Crisis?

The cost of living crisis is a social problem in Britain in 2022. It is when the cost of basic goods such as gas, electricity and food increase rapidly and faster than average wages, pushing more people into poverty. This post explores what items have increased in price, and who is affected the most.

The cost of living crisis is a situation in which the cost of basic, essential items such as food and energy bills have increased rapidly in a short period of time, and much faster than average household wages. 

This means that millions of people in the UK suddenly find themselves struggling to pay for basic items such as gas and electricity, rent, fuel for the car and food because these are a lot more expensive in Autumn 2022 than they were In Autumn 2021, while most people’s wages have not increased anywhere near as quickly. 

The Increasing Cost of Living in the UK in 2022

The Cost of Living in the UK increased by 10.1 in the year to August 2022.

The UK government measures this increase in the cost of living (known as ‘inflation’) using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) , which monitors the prices of over 800 goods and services and uses the average changes in price to provide an average inflation figure over the year.

According to the CPI to this the inflation rate was 10.1% in the UK between August 2021 and August 2022…

Consumer Price Inflation to August 2022

That means that if it cost you £1000 a month for rent, transport, food and stuff in August 2021 it would have cost you £1100 to buy the same goods and services in August 2022

If this average rate of inflation continues into 2023, which is likely, then it will cost you £1210 to buy the same products in August next year.

What items have increased in price and how rapidly?

You can actually see from the graph above that the main drivers of the increasing cost of living are:

  • Household costs including services – which mainly means gas and electricity
  • Fuel costs – the cost of filling the car or van with petrol or diesel
  • Food costs.

Electricity and gas prices have seen the most dramatic increase in recent months.

10 year trend in domestic electricity prices UK. Source: Nimblefins

Between 2010 and 2021 Electricity prices increased at around an average of less than 10% a year, and some years prices even went down compared to previous years. However prices increased very rapidly between 2021 and 2022 and are set to increase even more rapidly to 2023.

The average price for electricity was 19.6 pence per Kilowatt hour in 2021, but this is set to increase to 34 pence per Kilowatt hour by early 2023, meaning the cost of elecriticty has DOUBLED in less that three years.

The Office for National Statistics prefers to use a baseline index method to show the relative increase of both electricity and gas prices, setting the base index of 100 and showing the same trend as above: that domestic energy prices have doubled in just a couple of years:

Source: Department for Energy, 2022

In it’s September 2022 research briefing the government noted that the cost of gas had risen 96% in the year to August 2022 while the cost of electricity had risen by 54%.

Rising Petrol and Diesel Prices…

Petrol has also increased in price over the last two years, increasing 30% from £1.20 a litre to £1.60 a litre at time of writing in October 2022, having spiked to a high of £1.90 a litre in August.

Rising food Prices…

Food and non-alcoholic drinks were 13.1% higher in August 2022 compared to August 2021.

The Rising Cost of Living Research Briefing.

These figures are only for food bought from shops (mainly supermarkets) which people prepare and eat at home, they exclude restaurant and takeaway food and drink.

The price of some food items have risen more than others – the Food Foundation notes that the prices of milk and dairy, meat and vegetables have risen more than other categories of food, for example.

There is considerable variation in the rate at which different food items have increased but there are many very basic items which have increased considerably, including low fat milk which is up 34%, pasta up 24.4% and even 15.7%.

What’s happened to average wages in 2022?

Inflation wouldn’t be as much of a problem if wages increased at the same rate as the increase in cost of living, but this has not been the case recently.

According to government figures Real regular pay was negative 2.8% in March to April 2022. This figure takes into account the increasing cost of living and the effects of taxes on wages.

There are differences too between private sector and public sector wages – private sector wages have increased a lot faster than public sector wages, so the real terms decrease in wages (compared to the increase in the cost of living) is much higher for public sector workers such as nurses, teachers and our police.

Who is Affected by the Cost of living Crisis?

While the cost of living is increasing for everyone in the UK, poorer households are affected more than richer households.

The main reason for this is because poorer households spend a higher proportion of their income on gas and electricity and it is these two services which are increasing the most – thus the poor face a higher relative increase than the rich.

It is also the case that the poor tend to pay more than the rich for the same goods and services – their houses, for example, are less likely to be insulated (because they are more likely to be rented) and so heating bills will be relatively higher to achieve the same level of warmth and food costs more because the poor are less able to get to value supermarkets because they don’t have cars, and they are more likely to have to buy from local shops which tend to me more expensive.

Even before the rapid inflation we have seen 2022 so far, millions of households were struggling with meeting bas costs, already having to choose between heating or eating in colder months…

Source: Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Managing the Cost of Living Crisis on a Low Income

According a recent Guardian Article an additional one million will be pushed into poverty in the winter of 2022/ 2023 because of rising costs of gas and electricity, even with the government’s recent fuel cap.

And another recent study by York University suggests that more than 75% of households will be pushed into fuel poverty by January 2023, which means they will be spending more than 10% of their disposable income on gas and electricity bills.

What are the Causes of the Increasing Cost of Living…?

Official government sources tend to identify the following causes:

  • The Covid-19 Pandemic
  • Supply chain problems (linked to above)
  • The war on Ukraine…

However more objective observers also point to:

  • The negative consequences of four decades of neoliberal economic policies (in particular)
  • Liz Truss’ recent hyper neoliberal policy agenda has just deepened the crisis even more.
  • The Capitalist model of global ‘development’ (in general)

For a more in-depth look at this very broad question please see this post (forthcoming) The Causes of the Cost of living Crisis.

The Cost of Living Crisis is a Social Problem

The mainstream media loves to present us with stories of how people are coping with the Cost of Living crisis – putting a personal touch on the crisis which supposedly makes it easier for us to relate to and understand.

I outlined some examples of this in my recent post: Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis: Case Studies.

However, while these stories of people’s financial struggles are private troubles, it is also very obvious that the cost of living crisis is also a public issue – it is a crisis rooted in social and changes and structural problems that individuals themselves have no control over.

For example, the government’s chosen response to Lockdown the country during the Pandemic effectively shutdown the economy and de-railed econo;mic growth.

Similarly governmental responses to covid-19 around the world created supply chain issues pushing up the costs o many basic goods and causing shortages which makes it harder for economic activity to pick back up again.

Brexit has also retarded the economy by making it harder for British businesses to continue trading with Europe.

And of course the much mentioned war in Ukraine means Russia has halted its gas supply to Europe, pushing up energy prices.

In fairness the government has recognised that this crisis is social in nature, because it has stepped in with some measures such as the energy price cap and direct payments to households to help deal with the increased costs.

BUT it doesn’t seem to be accepting the fact that there are deeper structural issues at work too – such as our lack of renewables (which would make us more energy independent) and our commitment to neoliberalism which has for years allowed the private sector to drain money from the public sector, reducing teh governments capacity to spend its way out of this crisis through a massive green-infrastructural development plan, for example,

Anyway, I’ll cover the structural elements of the causes of the crisis and some of the more radical potential solutions to in a couple of future posts. For now, just keep in mind that this event, this crisis needs to be addressed with a critical mind, and you should be looking for the deeper structural causes of it and for deeper more longer term solutions than just handing out packets of money to individual households and energy companies!

Signposting – Relevance to A-level Sociology

While the increasing cost of living is only directly relevant to the Wealth, Poverty and Welfare module, which few students study as an option, I personally think students should be directed to study this topic as the main contemporary event which is affecting all of us in the UK today in 2022.

To my mind the fact that the material reality of our lives is getting harder and that this is having real consequences challenges Postmodernism especially and I’d further suggest that Marxism becomes more relevant as huge amounts of people are being driven further into absolute and relative poverty as a result.

For further insight you might like this ‘first thoughts post on how sociological perspectives relate to the crisis.

Sources/ Find out More

The House of Commons Library (September 2022) The Rising Cost of Living Research Briefing.

The Food Foundation – A charity which live tracks the price of a basket of food items regarded by the public to be a reasonable basket of items – they distinguish between a woman’s basket and a man’s basket – interestingly the man’s basket is £7 a week more expensive than the woman’s basket!

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2022) Managing the Cost of Living Crisis on a Low Income.

Discrimination against LGBTQ people in the UK

This post summarises some of the most recent data on the extent of discrimination against LGBTQ people, and is aimed at A-level sociology students studying aspects of sex and gender and gender inequality across the A-level specification.

The LGBTQ survey carried out in 2018 by the Government Equalities Office found that:

  • LGBT respondents were less satisfied with their life than the general UK population (rating satisfaction 6.5 on average out of 10 compared with 7.7).
  • Trans respondents had particularly low life-satisfaction scores (around 5.4 out of 10)
  • 40% of respondents had experienced verbal harassment or physical violence because they were LGBTQ in the last 12 months.
  • 2% had undergone conversion therapy.

The above survey was based on a sample of 108 100 respondents and was hosted online for a total of 12 weeks.

There was also some evidence from this survey that there is discrimination against Trans people when applying for work, but this is only based on one response…

The 2018 Trans Report from Stonewall found that:

  • A third of trans people have been discriminated against because of their gender identity when visiting a café, restaurant, bar or nightclub in the last year.
  • More than a quarter of trans people in a relationship in the last year have faced domestic abuse from a partner.
  • More than 44 per cent avoid certain streets because they don’t feel safe there as an LGBT person.

The 2018 StoneWall Work Report found that 20% of LGBTQ people had faced some sort of negative discrimination because of their sexual identities in the workplace…

Government Data for England and Wales shows that Hate Crimes against people based on sexuality has been increasing every year since 2015. The latest data show that:

  • 54% of Transgender people reported experiencing a negative incident outside of the home because of their sexuality compared to 40% of gay people.
  • 11% of Transgender and 5% of gay people reported being victims of physical violence.
  • NB around 90% of these incidents were not reported to the police! These are from victim survey results!

(Link to more detailed report on sexuality hate crime).

It’s from the USA but still interesting as a point of comparison…. Trevor’s National Survey on LGBTQ mental health, based on a sample of 35 000 LGBTQ 13-24 year olds found that…

  • 75% had experienced discrimination based on their gender or sexuality at least once in their lifetime.
  • 42% had seriously considered suicide in the last year, with more than 50% of transgender and non binary youth reporting this.
  • 13% reported being subject to conversion therapy .

Relevance to A-level Sociology

Sex and Gender inequalities are one of the core aspects taught across A-level sociology, but statistics and research on sexuality and transgender issues are lacking in most of the A-level text books.

This post is an attempt to make this increasingly relevant aspect of gender and gender identity more accessible.

From a research methods point of view it’s worth noting how little research and monitoring are done on LGBTQ inclusion and discrimination – for example the latest nation wide government survey above was four years ago in 2018.

We need more than individualised solutions to the energy crisis!

Martin Lewis has been arguing since at least March 2022 that energy prices in the UK have increased so rapidly in such a short space of time that millions of people will be unable to manage the increasing costs simply by instigating energy-saving measures at the level of the individual household.

His concern is justified, based on a recent government report on the energy market – which shows that energy prices for the average household doubled between summer 2021 and 2022.

You can read the report here: full report on the energy crises.

Martin Lewis himself has been a long term proponent of helping people to help themselves to save money by shopping around for better energy deals and switching provider, or by doing any or all of the following:

  • Buy a smart thermostat
  • Turn the thermostat down by one or two degrees
  • Insulate the roof
  • Buy more energy efficient appliances
  • Wash clothes on a cooler temperature.

The list above is taken from Money Saving Super Market, and all of these suggestions are sensible and it’s difficult to argue against them, but the point Martin Lewis has been making more and more forcibly for several months now is that low income households (of which there are millions) also need government support to either meet the increasing cost of gas and electricity bills.

The simple fact is that even if you do ALL of the above (some of which have an investment cost) you might reduce your energy consumption by 20-30% but that doesn’t offset price rises which have recently doubled and are set to double again in 2023, so a 200% increase in prices!

In Sociological terms all of the above are what Zygmunt Bauman would call ‘individualised solutions to social problems‘, which is the norm in the age of neoliberalism which believes in less government intervention in the market and leaving individuals to fend for themselves.

In this case we have a socio-economic problem – energy prices doubling in a very short space of time and rather than the government stepping in with a range of measures to tackle this they have, for most of 2022, left individuals to fend for themselves.

The Energy Cap – Something of a social solution but still not enough…?

It is probably testimony to how serious the energy crises is that Liz Truss recently announced an energy cap of £2500 (weighted for the average household) – which is a form of a political (public) solution to this social problem.

However, this is quite a weak response – households are expected to soak up ALL of the increase in prices so far, and then this only protects households from some (not all) of the anticipated price rises to come into 2023.

The government could do far more… for example a massive investment into insulating households and tax breaks or even subsidies for households installing solar panels and energy efficient appliances.

Meanwhile at the public level we could be investing in green-energy and training people to research and install such systems, given that there is likely to be increased demand for this sort of thing going forwards.

However the government has opted for allowing companies the right to frack and drill for gas around the United Kingdom and has chosen nuclear as its investment option – the problem with the later especially being that it will be the future generations that foot the bill for securing the legacy of toxic radioactive waste that goes along with nuclear.

Ironically this seams to be a case of the government investing in energy-tech which will create further public problems in the future, when there will even less capacity for a public solution to even more dramatic social problems, at least if the advance of neoliberalism persists!

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